International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF)

Most of us have only become aware of the The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) in recent years, but it was, in fact, first formed during the closing years of the nineteenth century as an international secretariat of transport unions all over the world. It now has a membership of more than 400 trade unions from nearly 100 different countries and claims to represent more than four million transport workers At the time of its formation there was no such thing as a flag of convenience but when that phenomenon emerged The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) saw it as an attempt to undermine trade unionism in general and the standards of seafarers’ working and safety conditions in particular. In 1950, at their Stuttgart Congress, The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) adopted a ‘Plan of Action’ which in principle required all owners to adhere to certain defined minimum conditions. Failure would result in boycott action to bring such owners to the negotiating table. Much of that resolution remains in place to this day. However, a somewhat ambitious part of the plan was to force owners away from flags of convenience by an international blockade. Eventually this did not go beyond a four-day boycott in 1958. A more practical resolution was passed at their 1971 congress in Vienna when a standard agreement was drawn up for use by all ships whose crews were not covered by an agreement properly negotiated between union and employer. Such agreements also included provision for contributions to an The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) fund set up to sustain the campaign and to provide, in addition, a charity to support seamen’s’ missions and other forms of welfare in port and on board. The strength of the The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) lies in the fact that almost all transport unions are affiliated to it. This means that immobilizing a ship by arranging for services such as tug crews and lock-keepers to ‘black’ the offending ship is quite easy. So many of the ITF’s ideals are praiseworthy that affiliated unions are quick to support any boycott. The weakness, which seems almost inevitable with any well-meaning political body, is that sooner or later hypocrisy and/or extremism start to appear. For example the The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) were quick to ‘black’ a free flag ship owned by a highly respected private Japanese line which provided good conditions for its crew but which refused to make a contribution of about $230 per crew member per year into The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) coffers. In its literature The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) claims that it is concerned to ensure that (say) Filipino crews have their wages raised to The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF)’s approved level (which is far in excess of general wage levels in the Philippines). However, has been suggested that the real aim is to make Filipino crews an unattractive proposition in the belief that owners will turn back to recruiting crews from their own countries. The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) should, however, never be underrated; their fund raising now provides for permanent The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) officials in many major ports and provides many valuable facilities for Missions to Seafarers and other welfare organisations worldwide. They have taken the lead in many difficult situations where crews have been in danger or stranded without funds and their intelligence network is first class.