In February 1945, whilst World War II was still in the process of being fought, a World Trade Union Conference was held in London chaired by representatives from the Trades Union Congress of the United Kingdom, the Congress of Industrial Organisations of the United States and the All Union Central Council of Trade Unions of the USSR. As a result of this conference the World Federation of Trade Unions or WFTU was established at a congress meeting held in Paris on the 3rd October 1945 attended by a total of 56 national trades union organisations from 55 countries.

Even at this first congress there were sharp poltical differences between many of the delegates which led Walter Citrine of the British Trades Union Congress to remark that "If once we get into the maze of politics. . . . this International will perish." By 1949 the arrival of the Cold War brought matters to a head, the British and the Americans walked out of the WFTU, most of the other union federations from the west followed and went and formed the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.

The World Federation of Trade Unions continued although its membership was now restricted to national union federations that were either from communist bloc countries or Communist Party dominated federations from other countries. It remains in existence today, with its secreteriat based in Prague and claims to represent some 160 national, local, regional and international trade union organisations, covering more than 300 million workers from 84 countries on every continent.

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