The Trade Union Council of South Africa (TUCSA) was founded in October 1954 by 61 unions mainly representing White workers and mixed unions of Coloured and Indian workers. Initially, unions represented in TUCSA were members of the South African Trades and Labour Council (SATLC), popularly known as the Trade and Labour Council, which was formed in the 1930s by various trade unions from different backgrounds. They ranged from conservative craft unions, White racist industrial unions, White dominated racially mixed industrial unions and non-racial industrial unions. TUCSA's founding union broke away from the SATLC because they were opposed to its socialist ideologies. The largely racially mixed unions were also concerned by government attempts to dissolve multi-racial unions. Though TUCSA wanted to maintain interracial unions, it was not opened to membership of Black unions. The council adopted the policy of accepting membership of only registered unions. Because Black unions were not permitted to register by law they were therefore automatically excluded from TUCSA membership. As a result, TUCSA became a union for skilled workers only.
The deliberate policy to exclude Black unions led to the formation of the Trade Union Council that later formed the South African Trade Union Council (SACTU ). SACTU diverged from TUCSA's principle of playing a non-political role. Moreover, SACTU was concerned that TUCSA policies favoured policies of apartheid and sought to extend these policies into trade unions. Instead of campaigning against the division of labour into skilled and unskilled labour and the salaries of Black workers, TUCSA tried to maintain these divisions and focused its campaign against employers who structured skilled work into unskilled work and hired Black people to these jobs at lower salaries.
In 1962 TUCSA changed its policy and accepted the membership of Black trade unions. The decision was not favoured by some of the White trade unions who, in protest, withdrew their membership. Black trade unions were still not effective in the decision-making structures of TUCSA. In 1967 their membership of TUCSA was revisited. White trade unions threatened to withdraw from TUCSA if measures were not taken to expel them. Some of the Black trade unions decided to withdraw, nevertheless.
In 1968 the decision was finally taken to keep Black trade unions in TUCSA. This decision was resented by larger White trade unions, which later withdrew their membership. On 22 February 1969, during its fifteenth Annual Conference the constitution was altered in such a way as to debar Africans from membership. From now on the council would accept only registered unions. Meaning Black trade unions were excluded. The purpose was to attract large White trade unions back to the Council and to ease government pressure to expel Black trade unions. However, Black trade unions were not automatically expelled from the council. Pressure continued to be exerted through various mechanisms such as financial and direct calls for the government to outlaw unregistered unions.
In the light of the 1973 Durban strikes and other strikes that followed all over South Africa, TUCSA decided to once again accept Black trade unions. The measure was introduced as a mechanism to control Black trade unions and prevent further strikes that would threaten the position of skilled workers. Despite its policies that did not represent the aspirations of many Black workers, TUCSA continued to have a large membership of Black workers. However, membership of TUCSA was a result of a deliberate policy between the employers and TUCSA. The policy deprived Black workers the right to organise into legally recognised unions. It also compelled them to join TUCSA and accept its policies.
In 1982, TUCSA distanced itself from the work stoppage organised by SACTU and other unions to protest against the death of Neil Aggett who died in detention. A number of Black trade unions withdrew in protest. TUCSA claimed that it could not support the work stoppage because they did not know Dr Neil Aggett. In 1983, three Black trade unions were forced resign because of increasing TUCSA membership fees. This trend continued until the late 1980s when it was discredited as apartheid tool.