Page last updated at 13:57 GMT, Tuesday, 15 September 2009 14:57 UK

Q&A: The TUC

Unite members protesting outside Barclays Bank AGM in August 2009
The TUC represents 61 different unions with more than 6.5 million members

The TUC is meeting in Liverpool for its annual congress. But what is the TUC and who are its members?

What is the TUC?

The TUC (Trades Union Congress) is an umbrella group representing the majority of trade unions in Britain. It is made up of 61 affiliated unions comprising more than 6.5 million people. Founded in 1868, its early work involved co-ordinating the efforts of skilled workers to gain recognition from employers and saw it lobby the government to give more rights to workers.

Who are its members?

The union with the largest affiliation to the TUC is Unite, which has nearly two million members, and was formed in 2007 after a merger between the Transport and General Workers Union and manufacturing union Amicus. The smallest is drink firm Diageo's Staff Association, which speaks for 393 employees. Others represented by the TUC include Unison with 1.3 public sector members, and the GMB and National Union of Teachers with 590,000 and 282,000 members respectively. The Professional Footballers Association and actors' union Equity are both affiliated to the TUC.

Union membership graphic

Are all unions affiliated to the TUC?

The TUC represents the majority of trade unions in Britain. But a number are not affiliated. According to the TUC, the majority of these are small organisations representing specialist staff, who are often employees of a particular organisation. The largest grouping not affiliated to the TUC is the 140,000-strong Police Federation, which is prohibited by law from doing so.

What does the TUC do?

The TUC build links with political parties, businesses and local communities and campaigns on economic and social issues. It also represents British workers in the European Union and at the UN's employment body, the International Labour Organisation. The TUC's General Council meets every two months at Congress House in central London to oversee the TUC's work programme and sanction new policy initiatives. The TUC is headed by Brendan Barber, who became general secretary in 2003.

Why does the TUC meet annually?

The TUC's decision-making body is the annual congress. It takes place over four days each September and brings unions affiliated to the TUC together to draw up policies and lobby the government. Each union sends delegates to Congress. Motions are proposed and discussed and form the basis of the TUC's work for the following year.

Does the TUC have any political connections?

The Labour Party grew out of a Parliamentary Committee established by the TUC in the late 1800s. But TUC is not connected to Labour itself. The majority of Labour's affiliated membership comprises unions which carry the greatest representation in the TUC. However, not all the unions represented by the TUC are affiliated to Labour.

How has the TUC's structure and work changed over the years?

Membership of unions affiliated to the TUC has declined from a peak of 12.2 million in 1980 to about 6.5 million today, according to official figures.

Congress House, London, Congress House,TUC's HQ
Congress House in central London is the TUC's headquarters

There has also been a change in the structure and composition of the TUC. Public sector unionism is now at the centre of the TUC. Unison, with about 1.3 million members speaks for local government, NHS and school staff. However, the health and education sectors are represented by several different unions, some of which have codes of professional ethics that makes them reluctant to take strike action.

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