Papers of the Trades Union Congress

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Predominantly includes the files of the TUC's central registry, 1920-1987, comprising correspondence, internal and external documents, minutes, reports, printed material and press statements.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Trades Union Congress is a voluntary association of trade unions which was formed in Manchester in 1868. It forms the largest pressure group in the United Kingdom and works to improve the rights and conditions of working people. In achieving its aims the TUC has played a role both in many Government organisations and in the political wing of the Labour movement. Such a history has resulted in its archives being a rich source for the study of the political, economic and social history of the United Kingdom in the twentieth century.

The TUC is governed by an annual Congress at which representatives of affiliated trade unions meet to determine policy and to elect the executive body of the organisation. Between 1869 and 1921, the executive work of the Congress was carried out by the Parliamentary Committee. In 1920, the Committee was composed of sixteen members who dealt with a relatively narrow range of labour affairs. Changes in society during the First World War led to a widening of the TUC's functions and consequently the formation of the General Council in 1921, which was composed of a representative sample of trade unionists. The General Council is assisted by a number of committees, including Finance and General Purposes, Disputes, Education, Organisation, Social Insurance, International, Economic and Production. These in turn are served by departments, the number and nature of which varies according to the needs and priorities of the time. The responsibility for the everyday work of the General Council lies with the General Secretary who is assisted by a Deputy General Secretary and one or two Assistant General Secretaries.

In the regions, the TUC is organised into Regional Councils which cover England and Wales. Trade union activity in Scotland and Northern Ireland is co-ordinated by the Scottish TUC and the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, both of which are separate organisations with close working relationships with the TUC. At a local level branches of affiliated trade unions unite to form trades councils.

Reference: Ross M. Martin, TUC: The growth of a pressure group, 1868-1976 (Oxford, 1980).


The TUC kept its records in a central registry which was developed in the early 1920s. It was during this period that it started to keep detailed subject files. These files record the growth and development of the TUC, its relationship with affiliated unions, government, employers and unions in other countries. They were arranged by subject according to a decimal classification scheme. This scheme forms the basis of the catalogue of the archives :

  • 000-099 : Trade unionism
  • 100-199 : Labour conditions
  • 200-299 : Industrial relations
  • 300-399 : Capitalism
  • 400-499 : Public finance
  • 500-599 : Commerce and economics
  • 600-699 : Industries
  • 700-799 : Politics and government; publicity
  • 800-899 : Social issues
  • 900-999 : International

These were further sub-divided into smaller units, e.g. 966 is the classification for West Africa and 966.1 for the Gambia.

The Centre's catalogue combines these references with its own prefix, so that a file on the Gambia dating from 1960-5 would become MSS.292B/966.1/1. The prefix MSS.292B identifies the records as belonging to the 1960-70 archive, records catalogued as MSS.292 belong to the 1920-60 archive and those with the prefix MSS.292D to the most recent 1970-87 deposit. Files with the prefix MSS.292C belong to the supplement to the 1920-60 archive. These files did not originate from the central registry and were deposited at the Centre at a later date than the registry files for the same period.

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on access to these papers.

Acquisition Information

The TUC began depositing its registry files in the Modern Records Centre in 1987 with the deposit of the archive for 1920-1960 (MSS.292). There have been three subsequent deposits: the archive for 1960-1970 (MSS.292B) and additional material for 1920-1960 (MSS.292C), deposited in 1995, and files for 1970-1987 (MSS.292D), deposited in 1996.


Access Points: Given the size of the archive and the sheer variety of subjects, corporate bodies and persons its records encompass, a comprehensive list of index headings is not feasible at this level of description. In order to avoid giving undue weight or notice to a given part of the archive, such index terms have therefore been kept to an absolute minimum.

Other Finding Aids

MSS.292, MSS.292B and MSS.292C have been catalogued to file level. Copies of these catalogues are available in paper format in the Centre's searchroom, at the National Register of Archives in London and in Chadwyck-Healey's National Inventory of Documentary Sources. A box list of the 1970-87 archive (MSS.292D) may also be consulted in the Centre's searchroom, where a photocopy of the TUC's subject index is also available. The finding aids for the 1920-1960 archive (MSS.292), the 1960-70 archive (MSS.292B) , the supplemental 1920-60 material (MSS.292C) and the summary description of the 1970-1987 material (MSS.292D) are also available electronically through the above hyperlinks.

An authority record exists for the Trades Union Congress (GB 152 AAR1019).

Alternative Form Available

The Parliamentary Committee and General Council minutes, Annual Congress Reports, TUC pamphlets and selected other series of papers are also available on microform.

Conditions Governing Use

There are no restrictions on the use of this archive, apart from the requirements of copyright law.

Appraisal Information

This collection has been weeded for duplicates.


Further deposits are expected.

Related Material

Some manuscript material, such as the Gertrude Tuckwell papers, and TUC publications, are held in the TUC Library at the University of North London. The archive of the Wales Trades Union Council Cymru (1974-) is available in the Department of Manuscripts and Records, National Library of Wales (references C 1992/5O and C 1996/33). The finding aid to the archive is available electronically at

Corporate Names