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Unions in the Community – a guide to Trades Union Councils

Trades Union Councils bring unions together to campaign around issues affecting working people in their workplaces and local communities. Trades Union Councils aim to:

• Raise public awareness of rights at work, and the union role in enforcing those rights

• Promote organising and recruitment drives to build union membership

• Support union and community campaigns for dignity and respect in the workplace and beyond

With threats of racism and fascism, changes in the labour market and debate over the future of public services, the trades union voice in the community is as important as ever. The capacity of Trades Union Councils to provide a local response to organise trade unionists into coalitions with other progressive forces is crucial. They do this by providing services, which keep local trade unionists up-to-date with developments within the wider trade union movement, and by taking up relevant local industrial and community issues. This guide provides a brief introduction to trade union councils and how they work.

How do Trades Union Councils operate?

In this section, we describe the basic operation of trade union councils.


Trades union councils consist of representatives of trade unions or branches of trade unions which meet within the area covered by that Council, or have members working or living in the area.

A union branch will normally affiliate to the trades union council in the area in which it meets. Where branch membership is spread over two or more trade union councils areas, the branch can affiliate to more than one trades union Council with the agreement of the relevant Councils.

An application from a union branch to affiliate to a trade union council will usually be put before the next full meeting of the council. If the meeting agrees to the application, the branch will be taken into membership.


Union branches usually appoint their delegates to trade union councils at their annual meetings. The number of delegates that the branch is entitled to send to the council is determined by the scale of representation set out in each trade union council`s rules. For example, branch representation could be as follows

• 100 members or under, one delegate                              • 101 members to 250, two delegates

• Two and 51 members to 300, three delegates                   • One delegate for every additional 250 members (maximum of eight delegates)

The above scale is merely an example and trade union councils will vary the scale depending on the number and size of their branches.

Most trade union councils have a maximum limit on the number of delegates from anyone branch, so that the bigger branches do not dominate all of the work of the trades union council.

Affiliation fees

The funds of trade union councils are mainly drawn from the affiliation fees paid by trade union branches out of the general funds, based on their local membership. The amount of the affiliation fees is a matter for each trades union council to decide. Although they decide the level of the affiliation fee, trades union councils also have to bear in mind that some unions have rules which specify how affiliation fees shall be paid and, in some cases, stipulate a maximum payment.


Branches elect delegates to attend a local trades union council. That delegate than has the responsibility to represent the collective view of the branch within the trades union council.

Similarly, the officers of the trade union councils are elected by the delegates to the Council and are responsible to the delegates. As officers of a trade union council registered with the TUC, they accept a responsibility to the TUC. This includes upholding the objects of the trades council, and to work for and support the policy of Congress and the General Council of the TUC.

Trades Union Councils operate under the model rules approved by the General Council of the TUC. It is not expected every trade union councils will have rules which exactly replicate the model rules. However there are certain rules which must be included and followed by all registered trade union councils. Any changes to a trade union councils rules must be notified to the TUC. The date of adoption and dates of revisions should be clearly stated.


The objects of a trades union council, as set out in the model rules, are:

• To provide services to affiliated branches on a wide range of industrial, social and community issues

• To promote the interests of all of its affiliated organisations and to secure united action on all questions affecting or likely to affect those interests, including making representations to local authorities about matters of common concern to trade unionists within the district, and nominating representatives to a number of statutory committees .

• To act as a local body of the TUC, and to support and work for the application of such objects as the TUC may from time to time determine, including making more widely known in its area national policy declared by the TUC

• To improve generally the economic and social conditions of working people, including seeking improvements at the social services, public education, housing and health

• To help promote suitable cultural, educational, social and sports facilities for all working people

• To affiliate and to play an active part in the work of its appropriate County association (this rule applies in England only).

In addition, each trades union council in England is required to affiliate to its appropriate County Association and its appropriate TUC Regional Council. Each trades union council in Wales is required to affiliate to the Wales TUC. Each trades union council in England and Wales is also required to register with the General Council. Such registration may be made at any time and will remain current and operative from the date it is received by the TUC until May 31 in the following year.

In no circumstances shall the council cooperate with or subscribe to: the funds of fascist parties or any subsidiary organisations of these parties; any organisations whose policies or activities are contrary to those of the Trade Union Congress; or any industrial organisation which has been proscribed by the General Council. Nor shall Council subscribe to the funds of any political party. The council may cooperate with the local Labour Party, providing that no part of the funds of the Council derived from the general funds of affiliated trade unions shall be applied directly or indirectly in the furtherance of the political objects specified in section 72 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) act, 1992.

County Trades Union Councils

Most Trades Union Councils operate at borough or district level. However, counties which have unitary authorities usually have County Trades Union Councils. These are not County Associations, but Trades Union Councils which represent union branches within the county. Although this is usually the case in Wales, they are also a few in England as well. County trade union Council`s operate as normal trade union councils, but they have the right to send up to three delegates to annual conference, following the same rules as County associations. County trades union councils may submit one motion for the agenda of the annual conference and one amendment. As with trade union councils, county trade union councils also have the right to nominate and vote for candidates for election to the trade union councils joint consultative committee to represent their region.

In England, each trade union council registered with the TUC must also affiliate to the appropriate County association, unless the Trades Union Council has been allowed by the Trade Union Councils Joint Consultative Committee to operate as a county trades union council. The association is made up of elected representatives of affiliated trade union councils.


The objects of the association are set out in the model rules and fall within the following four categories:

• To act as a representative body of the TUC for the County in helping to publicise and administer TUC policy, including liaison on matters of joint concern with the TUC Regional Council.

• To act as an electoral body for trade union councils` representatives on the TUC Regional Council.

• To promote the effective working of trade union councils in the County and to coordinate their activities, particularly by making representations to the County Council and the other bodies at county level about matters of common concern to trade councils within the County.

• To assist, in conjunction with the trade union councils joint consultative committee, the development of trade union councils in the County by helping them to obtain affiliations on full membership from all trade union branches in their areas and promoting the establishment of new councils in particular local authority areas where none currently exist.


Representation of trade union councils is based on affiliation fees paid to the County Association. For example, trade union Council representation could be as follows:

• Up to 5000 members: one representative.

• 5000 to 10,000 members: two representatives.

• 10,000 to 20,000 members: three representatives.

• Over 20,000 members: four representatives

This scale is shown as an example. County Associations will usually adopt a suitable scale depending on the number and size of trade union councils in the County.

Trades Union Councils Joint Consultative Committee

The trade union councils joint consultative committee (TUCJCC) is a TUC committee, which meets five times a year. It consists of representatives of trade union councils and members of the General Council. The trade union council representatives are elected regionally by registered trade union councils in an annual postal ballot.

The TUCJCC was established in 1925 and act as an advisory and consultative committee on all matters concerning trade union councils. This enables the General Council on issues affecting trade union councils to consider their perspective before taking a final decision.


Here are some examples of trades union councils activities over the last few years:

Supporting local union campaigns

Salford Trades Union Council leafleted and organised a public meeting as part of the local union campaign against privatisation.

Wirral Trades Union Council took part in the campaign to stop the privatisation of the Mersey tunnels. Wirral also campaigned against the placing of mobile phone masts.

Swindon Trades Union Council campaigned against the selling-off of council housing. The trades union council set up a Defend Council Housing campaign involving local government, unions and tenants. The campaign leafleted all of the meetings of tenants involved in the consultation process. The result was that nearly 90% of tenants indicated a preference to stay within the Council.

Workers Memorial Day

In Bradford, the trades union council held a remembrance event in Centenary Square. In London, Haringey Trades Union Council held a vigil after a short walk to the site of a building which collapsed two years ago, and where several workers narrowly escaped with their lives.

The trades union council in Keighley worked with Keighley Worksafe to organise an event where they gathered 300 signatures on a petition calling for greater corporate accountability. Other trades union councils held wreath laying ceremonies. And in Wolverhampton, the trade union council released 249 black and purple balloons, each one representing somebody killed at work last year.

Public events

Trade union councils are involved in organising Mayday events every year, including those in Bristol, Norwich, Ipswich, Wolverhampton, Birmingham, London and Merseyside.

Meetings and conferences

Several trade union councils and county associations have organised themed conferences in their local areas. For example, Chelmsford and District Trades Union Council held a conference entitled ``Trade Unions after the General Election``. Speakers included Labour MPs , Gareth Thomas and Andy Love, and Aslef general secretary Mick Rix. The conference included workshops on globalisation, outsourcing and community unionism.

Publishing newsletters

Blackburn and Southwest Lancashire tradea union councils both publish a regular newsletter and have established their own websites. This can help to boost the profile of county associations and individual trade union councils.

Re-establishing trade union councils

Oldham Trades Union Council was reestablished with a development grant (see below), helping in the fight against racism and fascism.

A development grant was also used to re-establish Sefton Trades Union Council .

Challenging racism

Greater Manchester used its development grant to carry out work in support of asylum seekers, as did Liverpool, and Blackburn put its grant to use in the local fight against racism.

Four North West county associations held a residential conference on tackling racism in Blackpool. The seminar included speakers from Searchlight, TUC Education and Oldham and Burnley councils.

Annual conference

The annual conference of trade union councils is usually held on a weekend in May. Each trades union council is entitled to be represented at the conference by one delegate. Each County Association is entitled to be represented by two delegates, at least one of whom must be a woman. In addition, County Associations may send a third delegate provided that they are either a young trade unionist or a black trade unionist.

The principal objects of the conference are:

• To discuss the work of the TUCJCC.

• To receive reports on resolutions which were carried by the previous year`s conference .

• To discuss ways of strengthening the organisation of trade union councils and county associations.

• To receive the report of scrutineers on the ballot for membership of the TUC JCC.

Trade union councils can submit motions for discussion at the conference through their County Association. Motions must be concerned with the organisation of work of trade union councils, or implementing some aspect of Congress policy. County associations are then able to select up to two motions to be submitted for the conference agenda. In addition , county associations can submit one amendment to any of the motions on the agenda.

Development grant.

Each year, the TUCJCC draws up a programme of work which outlines key priorities and campaigning objects of trade union councils. To support trade union councils in locally implementing the campaigns outlined in the programme of work, the General Council has established a development grant. Grant of up to £250 are distributed by the TUC Regional Secretaries for activities developed in line with this programme. An application form is available from the TUC Regional Office. Trade union councils are encouraged to make joint bids for grants in order to fund collaborative projects.

County associations of trades union councils can also access to development grant to run campaigns with the specific goal of:

• Establishing new trade union councils;

Revitalising existing trade union councils.

• Boosting branch affiliation to trades union councils.

As part of their activity to rebuild trade union councils, campaign bids may also include applications to cover administrative costs, including travel costs associated with participation in wider TUC structures and organisations. Those county associations submitting bids should identify clear goals with measurable outcomes, such as boosting the number of branches affiliated to trade union councils or establishing new trade union councils.

Other useful publications for trade union councils.

Support the work of trade union councils, the following publications can be ordered from the TUC:

• The model rules and guidance for trade union councils and county associations .

• The directory of trade union councils - this list the contact details of all registered trade union councils and county associations. Many unions use this to affiliate their branches to the appropriate trades union council.

• The programme of work - this is distributed every year following annual conference. Also on this website.

For more information about trade union councils or to order a copy of any of these publications, contact the TUC Organisation and Services department on  020 7467 1250 .

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