History and basic principles

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) represents 533 trade unions in 136 countries and more than 5 million union members in the transport industry.

It fights for social justice, adequate wages, healthy and safe working conditions and against unemployment and poverty.

The ITF supports free and democratic union activity as well as the defense of human and union rights. Great importance is attached to the social dimension of regional and international free trade agreements.

The ITF organizes campaigns for uniform and sustainable policies, nationally and internationally. It supports plans which recognize the importance of transportation for the economic development of countries, and promotes efficient, high-quality transportation for users as well as employees.

The ITF was founded in London in 1889 by the leaders of European seafarers’ and dockers’ unions. They had recognized the necessity of organizing internationally in order to ward off strikebreakers effectively. A few years later, they were joined by railway unions, followed by road transport workers and, finally, more recently, civil aviation employees. In the light of increasingly powerful, globally active tranport businesses, international solidarity has become indispensable, more so today than ever before. Presently, the ITF is speaking for a larger number of employees than ever before in the past.


What does the ITF do?
The ITF supports its members with a variety of services in three main categories:

  • It organizes solidarity action if a member union encounters a conflict with employers or government and is in need of direct help from unions in other countries. The form of solidarity action can vary from protest notes, rallies and political pressure to strikes and boycotts.
  • It coordinates the extensive interests of unions in the transportation industry and represents these in worldwide institutions such as the International Labor Organization, the International Maritime Organization and the International Civil Aviation Organization.
  • It informs and instructs unions about developments in the transportation industry in other countries or regions around the world. In addition, it maintains a women’s secretariat and a department for training and education that aims at developing strong, democratic transport unions. All services are offered to all member organizations of the ITF, irrespective of size, branch or region. Each member union has the same right to ask the ITF for help.Who can become a member of the ITF?


Who can become a member of the ITF?
Every independent union organizing members in the transport industry has the right to apply for membership to the ITF.


Who heads the ITF?
The ITF is directed by its member unions. The most important body is the Congress, which meets every four years and is composed of delegates sent by member unions. The President and four Vice Presidents from different regions, the General Secretary as well as the Board consisting of 30 persons are elected by the Congress.

The General Secretary heads the secretariat and is in charge of ITF staff. Being the most important body between Congresses, the Board meets twice a year.


Which topics are dealt with by the ITF?
Today, all ITF unions have to deal with fundamental changes in the transportation industry.

Railway employees are being confronted with the appearance of multinational railway companies.

First and foremost, drivers employed in the road transport industry have started worldwide action against excessive working hours in passenger and cargo transportation.

Activities in the shipping industry are mainly aimed against flagging out, by means of which shipowners intend to evade national legislation and exclude unions. The ITF has been campaigning sucessfully against these flags of convenience for half a century. (link to navigational point foc campaign) It promotes linking seafarers’ standards of pay and working conditions to the shipowner’s nationality.

The maritime industry also sees port workers dealing with the social effects of ports being restructured, resisting the return of casual labor.

Employees in the fishing industry support sustainable exploitation of maritime resources.

Union members in civil aviation are tackling problems pertaining to the globalisation of their industry; tourist industry employees are fighting for their professional recognition.


The ITF Welfare Trust
By signing an ITF agreement, the shipowner commits himself to paying US$ 250 annually per crew member per ship, the reason for this being that the so-called “flag of convenience countries” do nothing for seafarers’ social facilities. By contrast, traditional shipping nations usually see their governments participating in social facilities for seafarers. The Trust’s funds are used to sponsor international social projects for seafarers.

Among other things, this includes setting up and renovating seafarers’ centers in seaports; providing sports fields close to port so that seafarers can hold soccer and volleyball games among themselves; providing minibuses for the transportation of seafarers into port cities; and supporting other facilities for maritime employees.

The Welfare Trust is managed by the ITF in London.