European Trade Union Confederation

In 2023, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) celebrates its 50th anniversary. Established in 1973 by 17 union organizations from 15 countries, it emerged during the first oil crisis and the post-World War II reconstruction of Western Europe. During this era, unions grappled with sector-specific divisions, ideological differences, and geographical disparities between northern and southern Europe. The need for unity gained momentum in the early 1970s, leading to the founding congress of ETUC on February 8 and 9, 1973. Since then, ETUC has grown substantially, now comprising over 90 national trade union confederations from 41 countries and affiliations with 10 European trade union federations.

This online exhibition explores pivotal moments of ETUC's history, shedding light on its crucial role in defending and improving working conditions, social rights, solidarity, and protection for European workers. It collects visual testimonies capturing significant events from ETUC's history, including demonstrations, congresses, conferences, official visits, and meetings spanning the period around 1979 to 2009.  This exhibition draws from the extensive ETUC audio-visual material transferred to the HAEU in September 2022, comprising over 5500 audio-visual items. ETUC archives opened to the public in June 2023.


"Europe, that's us" ETUC demonstration in Barcelona, 2002. Photo: Unknown Author / HAEU, ETUC-55-I.24

The Third ETUC Congress, Munich (May 14-18, 1979)

The Third ETUC Congress held in Munich from May 14 to 18 1979 marked by a transition in leadership with the election of Wim Kok as the organization's President. Against the backdrop of socio-economic and political challenges in Europe during the late 1970s, the Congress served as a crucial platform for formulating key policies and strategies for the European trade union movement. The decisions made during this event shaped the agenda of the confederation, reflecting its commitment to advancing workers' rights and interests. Additionally, the Congress provided an important opportunity for representatives from diverse European countries to collaborate, fostering a sense of unity and solidarity among trade unions across the continent. The video on the left, the earliest in the ETUC collection, offers a glimpse into the ambiance of one of the confederation's initial congresses. Included in the recording is a noteworthy speech by Wim Kok, the Dutch politician and trade unionist who held the position of President of the ETUC from 1979 to 1982.

The oldest video in the collection, An overview of the third ETUC Congress in Munich ( May 14-18. 1979). Video: HAEU, ETUC-1-V.1 / Photo: Peter W. Grüner / HAEU, ETUC-1-I.20

'Together for employment and social Europe' Brussels, 1993

In a coordinated effort, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) organized a pan-European demonstration on April 2, 1993, under the banner of 'Together for Employment and Social Europe'. Approximately one million demonstrators, came to Brussels and across 150 other locations to delve a powerful collective message advocating for a more robust and inclusive European workforce. The mobilization took various forms in different countries, ranging from demonstrations, calls for strikes, and public meetings to assemblies of company representatives. Each nation contributed to this joint action with a unique mode of engagement.


ETUC demonstration "Together for employment and social Europe" Brussels, 1993 Photo: Unknown Author / HAEU, ETUC-7-I.56
A video overview of the demonstration "Together for employment and social Europe" which took place in Brussels, in the year of 1993. This material has been digitalized by HAEU Audio-Visual archivists from the original magnetic support. Video: HAEU, ETUC-07_64 / Photo: Unknown Author / HAEU, ETUC-7-I.23.

ETUC general secretary visit, Sarajevo, 1994

The visit of ETUC General Secretary Emilio Gabaglio to Sarajevo on May 1, 1994 amidst the Bosnian war, exemplified the organization's unwavering commitment during challenging times. Participating in the May 1, 1994, celebrations in Sarajevo posed significant risks, as it was considered an act of provocation by Radovan Karadzić's regime. Nevertheless, despite these dangers, five thousand individuals actively joined the event. Given the precarious circumstances, ETUC representatives were transported from Split to Sarajevo in a French military aircraft. " As we neared the city, the pilot delivered a straightforward instruction: 'Gentlemen, we are about to land at Sarajevo Airport. Please don your bulletproof vests and helmets and be prepared to run in a zigzag along the runway.' " [Source: Christophe Degryse with Piere Tilly. “1973-2013: 40 years of history of the European Trade Union Confederation”. European Trade Union Institute, 2013

The visit of ETUC Secretary General Emilio Gabaglio to Sarajevo on May 1, 1994, amidst the Bosnian war. Photo: H. Dewi / HAEU, ETUC-9-I.23
1st Photo: Unknown author / HAEU, ETUC-9-I.12 / 2nd Photo: H. Dewi / HAEU, ETUC-9-I.22

ETUC's Enduring Fight Against Racism and Intolerance: Advertising ''Fight racism and intolerance'', 1994

As the representative body for European trade unions, ETUC has persistently advocated for workers' rights and social justice. By actively challenging discrimination, promoting diversity, and negotiating fair employment practices, ETUC seeks to create inclusive work environments.

In 1994, under the leadership of Emilio Gabaglio, ETUC launched the creation of "Fight racism and intolerance" campaign, showcasing their dedication to combating workplace discrimination, produced by Multi Graph / A Vision. This enduring effort served as a testament to ETUC's ongoing fight against racism. Beyond workplaces, ETUC's advocacy reflects a commitment to shaping a diverse and discrimination-free Europe. This historic initiative stands as a reminder of ETUC's pivotal role in inspiring a more just and equitable world.

ETUC Advertising against Racism and intolerance ''Fight racism and intolerance'', produced in 1994. This material was digitized by the HAEU's Audio-visual archivists from its original magnetic support. Video: Multi Graph; A Vision / HAEU, ETUC-149-V.1

ETUC's Empowering Initiative: Women in Trade Unions Conference, Brussels, 2002

In 2002, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) hosted the "Women in Trade Unions" conference in Brussels, a significant event amplifying the role of women in the labour movement. This gathering exemplified ETUC's commitment to gender equality within unions and the broader workforce. Addressing challenges faced by women in trade unions, the conference fostered dialogue, strategic planning, and collaborative efforts. ETUC reaffirmed its dedication to dismantling barriers and advancing women's participation in decision-making roles. The Brussels conference marked a pivotal moment, reflecting ETUC's ongoing mission to create inclusive spaces within trade unions, ensuring equal opportunities and representation for women across the European labour landscape.

Women in Trade Unions Conference, Brussels, 2002. Photo: Unknown Author / HAEU, ETUC-58-I.1
1st Photo: Unknown author / HAEU, ETUC-58-I.7 / 2nd Photo: Unknown Author/ HAEU, ETUC-58-I.3

10th ETUC Congress, Prague, 2003

From May 26 to 29, 2003, marking 30 years since its founding, the ETUC convened its Congress in a significant milestone: the first time in its history the conference was hosted in a former Eastern Bloc country, the Czech Republic. This momentous occasion, occurring just months before the eastward enlargement of the European Union, was laden with intentional symbolism.

The transition of leadership in the Secretariat has also reached a pivotal moment. After serving for 12 years, Emilio Gabaglio from Italy (CISL) handed over the reins to the United Kingdom's John Monks (TUC), who assumed the role of the new General Secretary. Simultaneously, in the position of President of the Confederation, Austria's Fritz Verzetnitsch (ÖGB) made way for Spain's Cándido Méndez (UGT).

Photo: Unknown Author/ HAEU, ETUC-64-I.70
1st Photo: Unknown author / HAEU, ETUC-64-I.67 / 2nd Photo: Unknown Author/ HAEU, ETUC-64-I.107

Euro-demonstration ''More pay, more purchasing power, more equality'', Ljubljana, 2008

This demonstration addressing the subprime crisis, the first of its kind in Central Eastern Europe, scored the participation of 35,000 individuals. On April 5, 2008, in Ljubljana, Slovenia, the demonstration, conducted in collaboration with the ZSSS (the Association of Free Trade Unions of Slovenia), marked a historic event as the inaugural protest of its nature in a country within Central or Eastern Europe. The primary focus was to voice concerns over salary stagnation and escalating disparities. This significant demonstration occurred five months before the collapse of the investment bank Lehman Brothers.

The march within the demonstration in Ljubljana, Slovenia, 2008. Photo: Unknown Author / HAEU, ETUC-89-I.215
The image features trade unionists and leaders joining hands as a sign of unity at the Euro-demonstration ''More pay, more purchasing power, more equality'', in Ljubljana, Slovenia ( 2008). Photo: Unknown Author / HAEU, ETUC-89-I.295
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