The General Council of the Trades Union Congress is an elected body which is responsible for carrying out the policies agreed at the annual British Trade Union Congresses (TUC).
The council has 56 members, all of whom must be proposed by one of the unions affiliated to the TUC. Unions with more members receive an automatic allocation of seats, in proportion to their membership. Smaller unions propose candidates for eleven elected seats. In addition
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, there are separately elected seats: four for women, three for black workers, at least one of whom must be a woman, and one each for young workers, workers with disabilities, and LGBT workers. The General Secretary also has a seat on the council.
Some members of the council are further elected to serve on the smaller Executive Committee of the TUC. The President of the Trades Union Congress is also chosen by the General Council.
Although the TUC has long had links with the Labour Party, members of the General Council are not permitted to sit on Labour’s National Executive Committee.
Until 1921, the leading body of the TUC was the Parliamentary Committee. This had seventeen members, but by the collapse of the Triple Alliance, it was considered ineffective and to have insufficient powers in industrial matters.
The new General Council had 32 members, elected from industrial groups, each consisting of one or more unions operating in a particular industry. Two of the places were reserved for women. It received additional powers to intervene in the case of major industrial disputes, and to resolve inter-union conflicts. In 1924, the Joint Consultative Committee was set up, which brought trades councils ultimately under the control of the General Council. However, these powers were not always exercised; many members of the council in the early years were elected on grounds of seniority, rather than recent accomplishments. Some were associated with left- and right-wing factions, although most were not strongly identified with a particular wing of the movement.
Changes to the groups and numbers of seats were made over time, as the number of workers represented in different industries fluctuated, but the system survived intact until the early 1980s.
The Iron and Steel and Minor Metal Trades Group was originally Group 6, but was renumbered in 1968.
The Building, Woodworking and Furnishing Group was originally Group 7, but was renumbered in 1965.
The Cotton Group was the original Group 9; in 1968, it was merged into the Textiles Group.
The Printing and Paper Group was originally Group 8, but was renumbered in 1968.
The Textiles Group was originally Group 10: Textiles (other than cotton). It was renamed and renumbered in 1968, when the Cotton Group was merged in.
The Clothing Group was originally Group 11, and was renumbered in 1968.
The Boot, Shoe and Leather Group was the original Group 12.
The Civil Servants Group was added in 1946, when unions of civil servants were first permitted to affiliate to the TUC.
The Non-Manual Workers Group was originally Group 16 and was renumbered on the creation of the Civil Servants Group.
The General Workers Group was originally Group 17 and was renumbered on the creation of the Civil Servants Group.
The Women Workers Group was originally Group 18 and was renumbered on the creation of the Civil Servants Group.
The group was expanded to five seats in 1981.
The General Council was restructured in 1983.
The UCW merged with the NCU in 1995 to form the CWU.
COHSE, NALGO and NUPE merged in 1993 to form UNISON.
The ASTMS and TASS merged in 1988 to form MSF
The AEEU and MSF merged in 2001 to form Amicus
Amicus and the TGWU merged in 2007 to form Unite
Section B originated as part of Section A, unions with 100,000 to 200,000 members being automatically entitled to one seat on the council.
In 1989, these unions were moved to a new Section B, but there were no changes to their entitlement of seats.
Unions with 30,000 to 99,999 members moved to Section B in 2012.
Unions with fewer than 100,000 members were placed in Section B until 1989.
In 1989, the section for small unions was renamed Section C, and was reduced to eight members.
Increased to 11 members in 2001.
In 2012, unions with 30,000 to 99,999 members were moved to Section B, and Section C was reduced to seven members.
Reduced to four members in 1989.