History of the STUC

The Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) is a completely independent and autonomous trade union centre for Scotland. It is not a Scottish regional organisation of the TUC.

It was established in 1897 largely as a result of a political dispute with the Trades Union Congress (TUC) of Great Britain regarding political representation for the Labour movement. A number of meetings were held by the various Scottish trades councils to discuss the situation, resulting in the formation of the STUC in Glasgow, Scotland, in March 1897. From the outset, the STUC was not in competition with the TUC, nor was it a political movement, but sought to ensure that "in any scheme for the government of Scotland provision should be made for the same industrial legislation being applied throughout Great Britain." Close contact was retained with the TUC with reciprocal arrangements existing for mutual assistance and co-operation when the occasion warranted.


The STUC originally had a rented office in Renfield Street, Glasgow, Scotland, in a building belonging to the Scottish Council for Women's Trade. Between 1900 and 1949 they had offices in various locations in Glasgow city centre and the Govanhill area of Glasgow before moving to Woodlands Terrace in the west end of the city in 1949. In 1998, the offices moved to Woodlands Road.


From the earliest days, the Congress concerned itself with a wide range of economic and social questions, lobbying British Members of Parliament, and from 1999 the Scottish Parliament and executive, on major issues. Hours and conditions of work and the battles around these issues were always a central preoccupation of the Congress, but it also concerned itself with wider issues such as international affairs, housing, education, transport, peace, racism, and social and economic issues, as well as promoting and supporting joint trades union councils (later re-named trade union councils).

The struggle for independent working class political representation was one of the concerns on which the Congress was founded and in 1900, the Congress was instrumental in establishing the Scottish Workers' Parliamentary Election Committee, a forerunner of the Scottish Council of the Labour Party, which would nominate and support candidates for Parliamentary elections. The Congress was also involved with the Scottish Workers' Representation Committee which continued to function until 1909 when its duties were taken over by the national Labour Party. A Scottish Council of the Labour Party was formed in 1915. Despite this involvement in the process which established the Labour Party, the STUC is not, and has never been, affiliated to any political party.


The STUC has always had active women members. In 1897 a female delegate, Miss M H Irwin, obtained the highest vote in the election of the first Parliamentary Committee (later re-named the General Council), the governing body of the Congress. She was nominated for chairman but declined nomination on the grounds that to appoint a woman chairman at that time was too premature. However, she acted as the Parliamentary Secretary and was also Secretary of the Scottish Council for Women's Trade. The first female President, Miss Bell Jobson, presided at the 1937 Congress. In 1926, the Organisation of Women Committee (later the Women's Advisory Committee, now the Women's Committee) was established by the Congress, specialising in issues relating particularly to women.


In 1937 the Congress agreed a motion to establish youth fellowships as a way of attracting young people to join the unions, and therefore encourage union membership regardless of sex or age. It was realised that to create separate youth fellowships was restrictive, suggesting that the old and young should work separately. Therefore, in 1938, it was decided to establish the Trade Union Youth Advisory Committee (now called the Youth Committee) encouraging youth sections within the existing unions. The Committee is elected by an annual conference of young trade unionists that deals with youth related issues, and elects a delegation to the Annual Congress which submits 3 motions and amendments like other affiliates. It also organises day and weekend schools and other activities for young trade unionists.

Recent Issues

From the 1930s onwards, probably the most important concern of the Congress has been the Scottish economy. The STUC has played its part in the legend of Red Clydeside 1910-1922; the period of militancy and protest by the working people of Glasgow and elsewhere. It has played a role in many historic struggles of the Scottish people including the General Strike of 1926, the post-war reconstruction of Scottish industry, and more recent events like the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders work-in of 1971-1972, the 1984-1985 miners strike and the defeat of the poll tax in the early 1990s. The Congress was instrumental in bringing the motor industry to Bathgate and Linwood, Scotland, in the 1960s the STUC played a central role for many decades in the campaign which established the Scottish Parliament.


By 1947 the STUC consisted of 83 affiliated trades unions with a membership of 671,630. In addition 51 trades councils were affiliated. Membership was made up of members of the Scottish unions and Scottish members of unions covering the British Isles. The period 1977 to 1980 saw membership of the STUC peak to over one million with 80 affiliated unions and 45 trades union counils. In 2008 there are 39 affiliated unions and 20 trades union councils. The total affiliated membership is 644,765.


The focal point of the STUC is its Annual Congress held in April and attended by delegates from affiliated organisations. It is the Annual Congress which sets down the policy of the STUC and which elects the General Council (known as the Parliamentary Committee until 1923). Between Congresses, it is the General Council which implements policy.

Lifelong Learning and Skills

The STUC's Lifelong Learning Unit was established in 1999 and was then funded by Scottish Enterprise. It worked with unions, employers, government and a range of four other bodies to help unions to develop and establish learning support and to allow union members to access training for skills and other development opportunities. In view of the development of the Scottish Union Academy and administration of the sixth round of the Scottish Union Learning Fund, the resources provided by the STUC through the Lifelong Learning Unit were augmented by funding from the Scottish Executive. Building upon the previous success of the Lifelong Learning Unit, the full STUC Skills & Learning Team was formed in November 2005.

Scottish Union Learning, previously known by the working title of the "Scottish Union Academy", was launched in May 2008. In 2008, the Scottish Government allocated £4.2m for union-led initiatives in lifelong learning for three years. Scottish Union Learning brings together the work of the STUC Skills & Lifelong Learning Team and TUC Education in Scotland. It administers the Scottish Union Learning Fund and mirrors the development of the TUC’s unionlearn in England. By working in partnership with unions, Scottish Union Learning will drive forward union led learning in Scotland.

In 2008 the STUC has its main offices on Woodlands Road, Glasgow, and a sub office located in Edinburgh. Scottish Union Learning is based in Glasgow, and there is a sub office to serve the Highlands & Islands located in the Unison Building on Shore Street, Inverness.

Description Compilation Details:
Compiled by Carole McCallum,
University Archivist,
21 February 2002.

Description Alterations:
Updated by David Powell,
HUB Archivist, 22 July 2002,
updated by Carole McCallum,
23 September 2002, 9 April 2003,
updated by Jennifer Payne, STUC Marketing Officer,
4 October 2006, 8 May 2008, 12 September 2008.

More Information

For more information or to find out how you can become a member of a trade union, please contact the STUC.

Related resources

STUC The official STUC website.