The General Federation of Trade Unions was established at a special Congress of the TUC held in 1899.The GFTU was created to address questions around a common policy on disputes which would give unions sufficient confidence to pool their financial resources in the workers’ cause. It would act as a focus for a system of strike support which appealed to the sense of solidarity of trade unionists in the era of New Unionism, but which was considered impracticable by some elements in their leadership. The GFTU was also a key part of the discussions about political representation which led to the formation of the Labour Party. The GFTU also continued as the main body conducting international relations with trade unions abroad until 1914 and continued beyond that until the TUC began to develop its role as the national centre for British trade unions at the end of the War in 1918. The last vestiges of this wider role went after the General Strike in 1926.
The GFTU became increasingly a federation of the smaller craft and industry unions as the larger general unions struck out in a different direction.As time went on it began to develop a new role which by the 1940s was increasingly in giving support to specialist unions. This expanded in the late1960s and early 70s wIth growth of the Education programme and the establishment of the Research Service.