A tradition of solidarity
The International Metalworkers' Federation is one of the largest and oldest Global Union Federations.
The IMF was created in August 1893 when thirty members from metalworkers unions in eight countries met in a small hotel in Zurich with the aim of creating an International Bureau, thus founding the IMF. These early members laid the foundations for international cooperation between all metalworkers' unions of the world.
Data collected by the Bureau at the time showed that social and economic conditions for metalworkers were extremely difficult. Working hours in Europe ranged from 11.5 to 15 hours a day and wages were very low. Only a small number of metalworkers were organised and the structure of unions at the national level was highly fragmented.
From the beginning, solidarity between unions extended further than simply exchanging information and was focused on offering mutual support:
- Within the first three years, British metalworkers contributed 1,000 marks to the Solingen cutlery-makers out on a protracted strike.
- Swiss metalworkers contributed 100 Swiss francs to moulders engaged in a harsh struggle in Nuremberg.
- German metalworkers later reciprocated in 1897 when British engineering workers were fighting for the eight-hour day and foundry workers in Denmark demanding higher wages were locked out.
- Everywhere, especially in Germany, funds were raised, establishing a tradition of international solidarity that has significantly strengthened metalworkers' unions to this day.
Eight hours work, leisure and sleep
The early 1900's were characterised by rapid economic growth in international trade and investments. Metalworkers understood the important strategic role that the IMF could play in protecting human and trade union rights. In 1893 the first Congress wrote:
"Our endeavour must be to fulfil the slogan of the May Day celebrations: eight hours' work, eight hours' leisure, eight hours' sleep."
In 1904, the different unions, which now included representatives from 11 countries, decided to create the International Metalworkers' Federation (IMF).
The goals of the Federation have always been to:
- encourage metalworkers' organisations to co-operate on trade union matters;
- support unionisation efforts in countries where trade unions are weak; and
- establish guidelines for effectively implementing solidarity actions during labour disputes.