Trade Unions Across The World

European Trends

Over the last twenty years there has been a widespread decline in trade union membership throughout most of western Europe. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, unionisation in many eastern European states has collapsed at an even more dramatic rate. In Poland, for example, today’s 14 % level of unionisation is in marked contrast to that of the Soviet-controlled era, when almost all workplaces were unionised. Most of those who remain trade union members in Poland work for former state-owned companies.

In only 8 out of the current 27 member states of the European Union (EU) are more than half of the employed population members of a trade union. In fact, the EU’s four most populated states all have modest levels of unionisation, with Italy at 30%, the UK 29%, Germany 27% and France at only 9%.

As a consequence, three out of every four people employed in the EU are now not members of a trade union. Furthermore, in every EU country outside Scandinavia (except Belgium), trade union membership is either static or continues to decline. Even in the UK, where a clear formal procedure for trade union recognition was introduced through the 1999 Employment Relations Act, the unionisation of employees has remained stable.

FedEE estimates that, in the medium term, the average level of unionisation across the EU will fall even further – from 26.3% today to just under 20% by 2010.

Outside Europe

i(n preparation)

Trade union organisations

This list covers the principal national and international trade union confederations representing employees in private sector enterprises.

Leading International Bodies

European Trade Union Congress (ETUC): 74 member organisations from 34 countries and 11 industry federations, making a total of 60 million members. The umbrella organisation for national trade union confederations in Europe.

Union Network International (UNI):
A grouping of 900 trade unions representing a total of 15 million individual union members around the world. Its regional section in Brussels is UNI-Europa.

International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICTFU):
234 organisations in 152 countries which represent a total of 148 million individual union members. A campaigning body concerned about ‘globalisation’ and involved in monitoring the activities of multinational enterprises.

Individual European Countries


  • Austrian Federation of Trade Unions (OeGB): Composed of 9 trade unions with a combined membership of 1.2 million. Founded in 1945 by a merger of pre-war socialist, christian socialist and communist trade union movements.


  • Confederation of Christian Trade Unions (CSC): 187 trade unions with a total membership of 1.7 million. Dominated by white collar unions and more pragmatic than its rival FGTB.

  • Belgian General Federation of Labour (FGTB): 14 trade unions with a total membership of 1.4 million members. Socialist body with strongly held commitment to a planned economy and codetermination in the workplace.


  • Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria (CITUB/KNSB): 46 trade unions and federations with a total of 350,000 members. Founded after the fall of communism in 1990 and closely allied to the United Labour Block (OBT) political party.

  • Confederation of Labour (CL Podkrepa): 109,000 members. Founded in 1989 as the Independent Association of Intellectuals in Bulgaria.


  • Union of Autonomous Trade Unions of Croatia (SSSH ): 22 trade unions and 21 branch offices with a total membership of 400,000. Founded after the end of communist rule in 1990.


  • Cyprus Workers’ Confederation (SEK ): Consisting of 68 free labour associations (federations) with a total of 65,000 members.

  • Pancyprian Federation of Labour (PEO): 9 unions with a total of 64,000 members. Established in 1941 and claims to be the largest Cypriot trade union federation, although SEK is roughly of equal size.

Czech Republic

  • Czech-Moravian Confederation of Trade Unions (CMKOS): 34 trade unions with a total of 611,000 members.


  • Danish Federation of Trade Unions (LO): Five principal unions representing 1.3 million employees. The organisation for blue collar employees, which has now severed links with the Danish Social Democratic Party. Responsible for negotiating the ‘basic agreement’ that establishes a framework for national employee terms and conditions. At an international level, the LO is pressing for a system of general rules for European collective agreements and a European dispute resolution system.

  • The Confederation of Salaried Employees’ and Civil Servants’ Organisations (FTF): Unions representing 363,000 members in both the public and private sectors.

  • Danish Confederation of Professional Associations (AC): 22 organisations representing 256,000 highly-qualified employees in the principal professions.


  • EAKL: Manual workers’ union confederation founded in 1990. 40,000 members.

  • TAIO: White-collar workers’ union confederation. 30,000 members.

  • STTK: Non-manual workers’ union confederation. 640,000 members.

  • AKAVA: Graduate-level employee unions. 461,000 members.


  • Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK): 21 trade unions with a total membership of one million. An effective representative body, which negotiates a periodic incomes policy with employers. The union claims that its membership consists of 46% women, with 25% of all members being under the age of 30.


  • French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT): Consolidated union with 800,000 members. Closely affiliated with the French Socialist Party.

  • General Confederation of Labour (CGT): Consolidated union with 700, 000 members. Closely affiliated with the French Communist Party.

  • General Confederation of Labour – Force Ouvrière (FO): Consolidated union with 17 branches and 300,000 members. Founded in 1948 as a breakaway group from the CGT. FO does not have ties with any political party.


  • German Federation of Trade Unions (DGB): 16 affiliated unions with a total of 6.6 million members. Dominated by the engineering union IG Metall and the services union Ver.di.


  • Greek Confederation of Labour (GSEE): 62 union federations and 75 labour centres with a total of 450,000 members. Umbrella organisation representing private sector workers. Although founded in 1918, GSEE was reformed after the Greek Civil war in 1950. The strength of the Greek trade union movement owes much to the Ergatiki Estia (OEE) system of compulsory union dues and contributions to trade union funds by a levy on social security payments.


  • Confederation of Hungarian Trade Unions (MSZOSZ): 200,000 members. General body for unions representing private sector employees.

  • Autonomous Trade Union Confederation (ASZSZ): 100,000 members. Employees in public transport, railways, air traffic, chemical industry, catering, tourism, water supply, police and fire service.


  • Confederation of Labour (ASI): Six national federations and five major unions with a total membership of 89,000. 88% of Iceland’s private labour force is unionised.


  • Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU): 57 unions representing around 555,000 members in the Irish Republic and in Northern Ireland.


  • Italian General Confederation of Labour (CGIL): Composed of 15 national trade federations and 134 labour chambers with a total of 5.5 million members, of which only 2.6 million are employed. Communist and socialist aligned organisation.

  • Confederation of Trade Unions in Italy (CISL): Consists of 14 union federations and nine other union bodies with a total membership of 4.2 million. Traditionally aligned with the Roman Catholic church.

  • Italian Workers Union (UIL): Consisting of 16 unions with a total membership of 1.6 million workers. Formed in 1950 through a split from CGL. A liberal and republican union which nevertheless co-operates quite closely with the larger CGIL and CISL.


  • LBAS: Founded in 1990. 24 unions with a combined membership of 145,000.

  • Lithuania

  • LPSK: Formed through merger in 2002. 120,000 members.

  • Solidarumas: Founded in early 1990s. 52,000 members.

  • LDF: Christian trade union confederation founded in 1919. 20,000 members.


  • Confederation of Independent Trade Unions (OGB-L): 16 trade unions with a total of 50,000 members.

  • Confederation of Christian Unions in Luxembourg (LCGB): Represents 40,000 members.

  • White-collar Union Federation (ALEBA/UEP-NGL-SNEP): A body formed in February 2003 following the break-up of the Federation of Private Sector White-collar Employees. It is an alliance of the Luxembourg Association of Banking and Insurance Staff, the Union of Private Sector White-collar Employees, the Neutral Union of Luxembourg Workers and the National Union of Private Sector White-collar Employees.


  • Federation of Trade Unions of Macedonia (SSM): The federation has 18 affiliated sectoral unions.


  • Confederation of Malta Trade Unions (CMTU): One principal and several minor unions with a total of 36,000 members.

  • General Workers’ Union (GWU): Comprises eight trade sections and two associations. Operates independently of the CMTU and is closely allied to the Maltese Labour Party. Recently suffered setback due to political infighting and formation of breakaway union.

  • Malta Workers’ Union (UHM): 26,000 members. Clerical and craft union. By far the largest union in the CMTU.

The Netherlands

  • Dutch Trade Union Federation (FNV): 14 unions with a total of 1.2 million members.

  • The National Federation of Christian Trade Unions in the Netherlands (CNV): Eleven trade unions with a total of 344,000 members.

  • MHP: Managerial union with 160,000 members.


  • Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO): 28 unions with 830,000 members. Principally blue collar unions.

  • The Confederation of Vocational Unions (YS): A politically independent umbrella organisation. It was formed in 1977 and consists of 21 trade unions.

  • The Federation of Norwegian Professional Associations: 15 unions with 133,000 members.


  • Independent and Self-governing Trade Union – Solidarity (NSZZ): 16 branches with a total of 634,000 members. Founded during worker protests in Gdansk, it was a major factor in the collapse of the Soviet regime in 1989/90.

  • All-Poland Alliance of Trade Unions (OPZZ): Confederation with a membership of 600,000. Formerly the state-run trade union body.


  • General Confederation of Portuguese Workers – Intersindical (CGTP): Affiliated unions with a total of 500,000 members. Formed after the end of the military dictatorship in the mid 1970′s. Communist orientated body with strong commitment to ‘international solidarity’.

  • General Workers’ Union (UGT): 60 unions with total of 200,000 members. Formed in 1978 through merger of social democratic and socialist trade union groups.


  • National Confederation of Free Trade Unions (CNSLR/BNS): 44 union federations with a total membership of 800,000 members. Currently merging with the National Trades Unions’ Bloc (BNS) which has 13 union federations with a total of 350,000 members.

  • Cartel Alfa (NTUC): 40 union federations and two associate organisations with a total membership of 350,000.

  • The Democratic Trade Union Confederation of Romania (CSDR): 22 federations with a total of 350,000 members in the education, food, cement and textiles sectors. Established in 1994 because of a split in the CNSLR. Allied to the Christian Democratic party.

  • Meridian: 150,000 members, largely in mining, metalworking, the chemicals and rubber industry, transport, media and communications.

Russian Federation

  • Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia (FNPR): Claims to have 28 million members and includes managerial employees. Much reformed successor to the former Soviet labour movement.

  • All-Russian Confederation of Labour (VKT): 3 million members. Established through an initiative by the Independent Miners’ Union.

  • Confederation of Labour of Russia (KTR): 1.2 million members. Well established in docks and sea transport.

  • Trade Union Association of Russia (SOTSPROF): Nine branches and a total of 500,000 members. Originally designated as a socialist body, but subsequently dropped its socialist affiliations. Principally representing white-collar unions.

Slovak Republic

  • Confederation of Trade Unions of the Slovak Republic (KOZ SR): 38 trade unions with a total of 460,000 members. KOZ SR is strongly opposed to the current coalition government’s economic policy, which it sees as being against workers’ interests.


  • Association of Free Trade Unions (ZSSS): 20 trade unions and 19 regional organisations with a total of 180,000 members. 60% of its employees in affiliated organisations work in the manufacturing sector.

  • KNSS, KSS Pergam, Konfederacija 90: Three smaller independent confederations with a total membership of 170,000.


  • Trade Union Confederation of Workers’ Commissions (CC OO): Around one million members. Formerly closely associated with the Spanish Communist Party, but now a largely independent body. Favours large-scale collective bargaining structures covering whole sectors.

  • General Workers’ Confederation (UGT): Around 840,000 members. Socialist trade union traditionally linked to the PSOE political party. Favours workplace representation, rather than sectoral initiatives.


  • Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO): 16 unions representing 1.7 million members. Closely aligned with the Swedish Social Democratic Party.

  • The Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees (TCO): 18 unions representing 1.2 million members.

  • SACO: Organisation for union covering graduate-level employees. 586,000 members (including 100,000 students).


  • Swiss Federation of Trade Unions (SGB/USS): 17 unions with a total membership of 390,000.

  • Swiss Workers’ Federation (Travail-Suisse): 13 trade unions with 140,000 members.


  • Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine (FTUU): 12 million members. Umbrella organisation with origins in the Soviet era.

  • The National Confederation of Trade Unions: 3 million members. Includes several independent trade unions.

  • Free Trade Unions of Ukraine (1997): 18 trade unions with a total of 148,000 members. Sectors include mining, shipping, air transport and railways.

United Kingdom

  • Trade Union Congress (TUC): 61 unions representing 6.4 million members. The TUC has close links with the UK’s Labour Party.

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Outside Europe  (In preparation)










New Zealand

Saudi Arabia

South Africa