|Part of a series on|
A trade union (working conditions. The trade union, through its leadership, bargains with the employer on behalf of union members (rank and file members) and negotiates labour contracts (collective bargaining) with employers. The most common purpose of these associations or unions is "maintaining or improving the conditions of their employment". This may include the negotiation of wages, work rules, complaint procedures, rules governing hiring, firing and promotion of workers, benefits, workplace safety and policies.
Unions may organize a particular section of skilled workers (industrial unionism). The agreements negotiated by a union are binding on the rank and file members and the employer and in some cases on other non-member workers. Trade unions traditionally have a constitution which details the governance of their bargaining unit and also have governance at various levels of government depending on the industry that binds them legally to their negotiations and functioning.
Originating in Europe, trade unions became popular in many countries during the Industrial Revolution. Trade unions may be composed of individual workers, professionals, past workers, students, apprentices and/or the unemployed.
- Definition 1
- National general unions 2.1
- Legalisation and expansion 2.2
- Prevalence 3
Trade unions by country 4
- United Kingdom 4.1
- Germany 4.2
- Scandinavia 4.3
- Belgium 4.4
- United States 4.5
- Canada 4.6
- Mexico 4.7
- Costa Rica 4.8
- Colombia 4.9
- India 4.10
- Japan 4.11
- Australia 4.12
- Structure and politics 5
- Shop types 6
- Diversity of international unions 7
- International unionisation 8
- Criticisms 9
- Union publications 10
- Film 11
- See also 12
- Notes 13
- Further reading 14
- References 15
- External links 16
Since the publication of the History of Trade Unionism (1894) by Sidney and Beatrice Webb, the predominant historical view is that a trade union "is a continuous association of wage earners for the purpose of maintaining or improving the conditions of their employment." Karl Marx described trade unions thus; - “...the value of labour-power constitutes the conscious and explicit foundation of the trade unions, whose importance for the […] working class can scarcely be overestimated. The trade unions aim at nothing less than to prevent the reduction of wages below the level that is traditionally maintained in the various branches of industry. That is to say, they wish to prevent the price of labour-power from falling below its value” (Capital V1, 1867, p. 1069).
A modern definition by the Australian Bureau of Statistics states that a trade union is "an organization consisting predominantly of employees, the principal activities of which include the negotiation of rates of pay and conditions of employment for its members."
Yet historian R.A. Leeson, in United we Stand (1971), said:
Two conflicting views of the trade-union movement strove for ascendancy in the nineteenth century: one the defensive-restrictive guild-craft tradition passed down through journeymen's clubs and friendly societies, ... the other the aggressive-expansionist drive to unite all 'labouring men and women' for a 'different order of things'.
Recent historical research by Bob James in Craft, Trade or Mystery (2001) puts forward the view that trade unions are part of a broader movement of fraternal organizations.
We rarely hear, it has been said, of the combination of masters, though frequently of those of workmen. But whoever imagines, upon this account, that masters rarely combine, is as ignorant of the world as of the subject. Masters are always and everywhere in a sort of tacit, but constant and uniform combination, not to raise the wages of labor above their actual rate[.] When workers combine, masters ... never cease to call aloud for the assistance of the civil magistrate, and the rigorous execution of those laws which have been enacted with so much severity against the combination of servants, labourers, and journeymen.
As Smith noted, unions were illegal for many years in most countries, although Smith argued that it should remain illegal to fix wages or prices by employees or employers. There were severe penalties for attempting to organize unions, up to and including execution. Despite this, unions were formed and began to acquire political power, eventually resulting in a body of labour law that not only legalized organizing efforts, but codified the relationship between employers and those employees organized into unions.
The origins of trade unions can be traced back to 18th century Britain, where the
- Labor rights in the USA
- magazineLabor Notes
- United States
- Trade union membership 1993–2003 – European Industrial Relations Observatory report on membership trends in 26 European countries
- Trade union membership 2003–2008 – European Industrial Relations Observatory report on membership trends in 28 European countries
- Trade Union Ancestors – Listing of 5,000 UK trade unions with histories of main organisations, trade union "family trees" and details of union membership and strikes since 1900.
- TUC History online – History of the British union movement
- Trade EU – European Trade Directory
- Short history of the UGT in Catalonia
- Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) – Australian Council of Trade Unions
- LabourStart international trade union news service
- New Unionism Network
- Younionize Global Union Directory
- First published by George Allen and Unwin Ltd (London) in 1952, and subject of reprints – Foreword by Arthur Deakin
- Published by Batchworth Press (London) in 1949
- First published by Odhams Press (London) in 1954
- First published by Hutchinson (London) in 1952 and reprinted several times
- First published by The School of Economics/Bell and Sons (London) in 1956 and reprinted
- First published by William Kimber in 1976 (London) ISBN 0-7183-0113-7
- published by HMSO (Her Majesty's Stationery Office) on 1986 ISBN 113612508
- Published in large paperback by Hamlyn/General Council of Trade Union Congress in 1968 with a foreword by George Woodcock
- Acocella, Nicola & Ciccarone, Giuseppe (1997), ‘Trade unions, non neutrality and stagflation’, in: ‘Public Choice’, n. 2, April.
- The Government of British Trade unions: A study of Apathy and the Democratic Process in the Transport and General Worker Union by Joseph Goldstein
- European Commission, Directorate General for Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion: Industrial Relations in Europe 2010.
- The Early English Trade unions: Documents from Home Office Papers in the Public Record Office by A. Aspinall
- Magnificent Journey: The Rise of the Trade unions, by Francis Williams
- Trade unions by Allan Flanders
- Trade Union Government and Administration in Great Britain by B C Roberts
- Union density and specialist/professional unions in Sweden by Anders Kjellberg, Lund University: Studies in Social Policy, Industrial Relations, Working Life and Mobility. Research Reports 2013:2
- Union Power: The Growth and Challenge in Perspective by Claud Cockburn
- Directory of Employer's Associations, Trade unions, Joint Organisations
- "The Decline in Swedish Union Density since 2007" by Anders Kjellberg, Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies (NJWLS) Vol. 1. No 1 (August 2011), pp. 67–93.
- The History of the TUC (Trades Union Congress) 1868–1968: A pictorial Survey of a Social Revolution – Illustrated with Contemporary Prints, Documents and Photographs, edited by Lionel Birch
- Clarke, T.; Clements, L. (1978). Trade Unions under Capitalism. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press.
- Lipton, Charles (1967). The Trade Union Movement of Canada: 1827–1959. Third ed. Toronto, Ont.: New Canada Publications, 1973. N.B.: On verso of t.p.: "Originally published by Canadian Social Publications, Montréal, Québec, 1967." ISBN 0-919600-02-6 pbk.
- Panitch, Leo & Swartz, Donald (2003). From consent to coercion: The assault on trade union freedoms, third edition. Ontario: Garamound Press.
- Phil Dine (2007). State of the Unions: How Labor Can Strengthen the Middle Class, Improve Our Economy, and Regain Political Influence, McGraw-Hill Professional. ISBN 978-0-07-148844-0
- Charles A. Orr, "Trade Unionism in Colonial Africa" Journal of Modern African Studies, 4 (1966), pp. 65–81
- Keasbey, Lindley M. "American Journal of Sociology: Competition" Vol. 13, No. 5 (Mar., 1908), pp. 649–660 online text available
- Webb, Sidney; Webb, Beatrice (1920). History of Trade Unionism. Longmans and Co. London. ch. I
- Poole, M., 1986. Industrial Relations: Origins and Patterns of National Diversity. London UK: Routledge.
- "Trade Union Census". Australian Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved July 27, 2011.
- (1928). The Guild and the Trade Union. The Age.
- Kautsky, Karl (April 1901). "Trades Unions and Socialism". International Socialist Review 1 (10). Retrieved July 27, 2011.
- G. D. H. Cole (2010). Attempts at General Union. Taylor & Francis. p. 3.
- Principles of Political Economy (1871)Book V, Ch.10, para. 5
- "Trade union". Encyclopedia Britannica.
- Bernstein, Aaron (May 23, 1994). "Why America Needs Unions But Not the Kind It Has Now". BusinessWeek.
- Johnson, S., 2004. An empirical examination of union density in six countries: Canada, Ecuador, Mexico, Nicaragua, the United States and Venezuela. Washington, DC, USA: Inter-American Development Bank, Research Network Working Paper £R-487, p.5, available at: http://www.iadb.org/res/publications/pubfiles/pubR-487.pdf.
- Johnson, S., 2004. An empirical examination of union density in six countries: Canada, Ecuador, Mexico, Nicaragua, the United States and Venezuela. Washington, DC, USA: Inter-American Development Bank, Research Network Working Paper £R-487, available at: http://www.iadb.org/res/publications/pubfiles/pubR-487.pdf.
- Hall-Jones, P., 2010. Unionism and Economic Performance. Internet article & statistics. Available at: http://www.newunionism.net/library/member%20contributions/news/Unionism%20and%20Economic%20Performance.htm
- OECD, 2010. Statistics on Trade Union Density. Paris, France: OECD.stat Extracts Web¬site [online]. Available at: http://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?DataSetCode=UN_DEN.
- Schifferes, Steve (8 March 2004). "The trade unions' long decline".
- "United Kingdom: Industrial relations profile". EUROPA. 15 April 2013. Retrieved 16 January 2014.
- "Trade Union Density" OECD StatExtracts. 2010. Accessed: 28 April 2013.
- Anders Kjellberg Kollektivavtalens täckningsgrad samt organisationsgraden hos arbetsgivarförbund och fackförbund, Department of Sociology, Lund University. Studies in Social Policy, Industrial Relations, Working Life and Mobility. Research Reports 2013:1, Appendix 3 Tables A-D (in English). Updated in 2014
- Anders Kjellberg "The Decline in Swedish Union Density since 2007" Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies (NJWLS) Vol. 1. No 1 (August 2011), pp. 67-93
- Trade Union Density OECD. StatExtracts. Retrieved: 17 November 2011.
- Union Members Summary Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 27, 2012 Retrieved: 26 February 2012
- Not With a Bang, But a Whimper: The Long, Slow Death Spiral of America’s Labor Movement| Richard Yeselson| June 6, 2012]
- 8-31-2004 Union Membership Trends in the United States Gerald Mayer. Congressional Research Service. 8-31-2004
- Stiglitz, Joseph E. (2012-06-04). The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future (Kindle Locations 1148-1149). Norton. Kindle Edition.
- Barry T. Hirsch, David A. Macpherson, and Wayne G. Vroman, "Estimates of Union Density by State," Monthly Labor Review, Vol. 124, No. 7, July 2001.
-  Retrieved July 14, 2013.
- Dan La Botz U.S.-supported Economics Spurred Mexican Emigration, pt.1, interview at The Real News, May 1, 2010.
- Juan Montes; José de Córdoba (21 December 2012). "Mexico Takes On Teachers Over School Control". Wall Street Journal.
- "Historia del Sindicalismo". SITRAPEQUIA website (in Español). San José: Sindicato de Trabajadores(as) Petroléros Químicos y Afines. 2014. Retrieved 4 May 2014.
- Herrera, Manuel (30 April 2014). "Sindicatos alzarán la voz contra modelo neoliberal en celebraciones del 1° de mayo". La Nacion (in Español) (San Jose). Retrieved 7 May 2014.
- American Center for International Labor Solidarity (2006), Justice For All: The Struggle for Worker Rights in Colombia, p11
- An ILO mission in 2000 reported that "the number of assassinations, abductions, death threats and other violent assaults on trade union leaders and unionized workers in Colombia is without historical precedent". According to the Colombian Government, during the period 1991–99 there were 593 assassinations of trade union leaders and unionized workers while the National Trade Union School holds that 1 336 union members were assassinated." – ILO, 16 June 2000, Special ILO Representative for cooperation with Colombia to be appointed by Director-General
- "By the 1990s, Colombia had become the most dangerous country in the world for unionists" – Chomsky, Aviva (2008), Linked labor histories: New England, Colombia, and the making of a global working class, Duke University Press, p11
- "Colombia has the world’s worst record on these assassinations..." – 20 November 2008, Colombia: Not Time for a Trade Deal
- International Trade Union Confederation, 11 June 2010, ITUC responds to the press release issued by the Colombian Interior Ministry concerning its survey
- International Trade Union Confederation (2010), Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights: Colombia
- Nimura, K. The Formation of Japanese Labor Movement: 1868–1914 (Translated by Terry Boardman). Retrieved 11 June 2011
- Cross Currents. Labor unions in Japan. CULCON. Retrieved 11 June 2011
- Weathers, C. (2009). Business and Labor. In William M. Tsutsui (Ed.), A Companion to Japanese History (pp. 493–510). Chichester, UK: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
- Jung, L. (30 March 2011). National Labour Law Profile: Japan. ILO. Retrieved 10 June 2011
- Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training. Labor Situation in Japan and Analysis: 2009/2010. Retrieved 10 June 2011
- Dolan, R. E. & Worden, R. L. (Eds.). Japan: A Country Study. Labor Unions, Employment and Labor Relations. Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, 1994. Retrieved 12 June 2011
- History of the ACTU. Australian Council of Trade Unions.
- "The 10 Biggest Strikes in American History". Fox Business. August 9, 2011
- ICFTU press release – regarding Cambodia.
- Amnesty International report 23 September 2005 – fear for safety of SINALTRAINAL member José Onofre Esquivel Luna
- See the website of the Danish discount union "Det faglige Hus" at http://www.detfagligehus.dk/ (website in Danish)
- Jacek Tittenbrun, The economic and social processes that led to the revolt of the Polish workers in the early eighties at Marxist.com
- Solidarność popiera Kaczyńskiego jak kiedyś Wałęsę at news.money.pl }
- "Australian Centre for Industrial Relations Research and Training report". Acirrt.com. Retrieved 2011-07-27.
- Eurofound website "FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION/TRADE UNION FREEDOM", http://www.eurofound.europa.eu/emire/ITALY/FREEDOMOFASSOCIATIONTRADEUNIONFREEDOM-IT.htm
- Eurofound, http://www.eurofound.europa.eu/eiro/2006/01/feature/dk0601104f.htm
- Bamberg, Ulrich (June 2004). "The role of German trade unions in the national and European standardisation process". TUTB Newsletter. 24–25. Retrieved July 27, 2011.
- Gold, M., 1993. The Social Dimension – Employment Policy in the European Community. Basingstroke England UK: MacMillan Publishing
- Hall, M., 1994. Industrial relations and the social dimension of European Integration: Before and after Maastricht, pp. 281–331 in Hyman, R. & Ferner A., eds.: New Frontiers in European Industrial Relations, Basil Blackwell Publishing
- Wagtmann, M.A. (2010): Module 3, Maritime & Port Wages, Benefits, Labour Relations. International Maritime Human Resource Management textbook modules. Available at: https://skydrive.live.com/?cid=f90c069a3e6bb729&id=F90C069A3E6BB729%21107#cid=F90C069A3E6BB729&id=F90C069A3E6BB729%21182
- Kramarz, Francis (2006-10-19). "Outsourcing, Unions, and Wages: Evidence from data matching imports, firms, and workers". Retrieved 2007-01-22.
- Friedman, Milton (2007). Price theory ([New ed.], 3rd printing ed.). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.
- The 2010 British film Made in Dagenham, starring Sally Hawkins, dramatizes the Ford sewing machinists strike of 1968 that aimed for equal pay for women.
- The 2000 film Bread and Roses deals with the struggle of poorly paid janitorial workers in Los Angeles and their fight for better working conditions and the right to unionize.
- Hoffa, a 1992 American biographical film directed by Danny DeVito and based on the life of Teamsters Union leader Jimmy Hoffa.
- The 1985 documentary film Final Offer by Sturla Gunnarsson and Robert Collision shows the 1984 union contract negotiations with General Motors.
- The 1979 film Norma Rae, directed by Martin Ritt and starring Sally Field, is based on the true story of Crystal Lee Jordan's successful attempt to unionize her textile factory.
- The 1978 film F.I.S.T., directed by Norman Jewison and starring Sylvester Stallone, is loosely based on the Teamsters Union and their former President Jimmy Hoffa.
- The 1959 film I'm All Right Jack, a comedy with Peter Sellers playing the shop steward Fred Kite.
- Bastard Boys, a 2007 dramatisation of the 1998 Australian waterfront dispute.
- The 1954 film On the Waterfront, directed by Elia Kazan, concerns union violence among longshoremen.
- Other documentaries: Made in L.A. (2007); American Standoff (2002); The Fight in the Fields (1997); With Babies and Banners: Story of the Women's Emergency Brigade (1979); Harlan County, USA (1976); The Inheritance (1964)
- Other dramatisations: 10,000 Black Men Named George (2002); Matewan (1987); American Playhouse – "The Killing Floor" (1985); Salt of the Earth (1954); The Grapes of Wrath (1940); Black Fury (1935); Metello (1970).
Labor Notes is the largest circulation cross-union publication remaining in the United States. It reports news and analysis about union activity or problems facing the labour movement. Another source of union news is the Workers Independent News, a news organization providing radio articles to independent and syndicated radio shows in the United States.
Several sources of current news exist about the trade union movement in the world. These include LabourStart and the official website of the international trade union movement Global Unions. A source of international news about unions is RadioLabour which provides daily (Monday to Friday) news reports.
, sought to show that unionisation produces higher wages (for the union members) at the expense of fewer jobs, and that, if some industries are unionized while others are not, wages will tend to decline in non-unionized industries.capitalism laissez-faire and advocate of economist, Milton Friedman  In the United States, the outsourcing of labour to Asia, Latin America, and Africa has been partially driven by increasing costs of union partnership, which gives other countries a
Trade unions have been accused of benefiting insider workers, those having secure jobs, at the cost of outsider workers, consumers of the goods or services produced, and the shareholders of the unionized business.
National and regional trade unions organizing in specific industry sectors or occupational groups also form global union federations, such as Union Network International, the International Transport Workers Federation, the International Federation of Journalists or the International Arts and Entertainment Alliance.
The largest trade union federation in the world is the World Federation of Trade Unions.
Historically, the Republic of Korea has regulated collective bargaining by requiring employers to participate, but collective bargaining has only been legal if held in sessions before the lunar new year.
Beyond the classification listed above, unions' relations with political parties vary. In many countries unions are tightly bonded, or even share leadership, with a political party intended to represent the interests of the working class. Typically this is a Ronald Reagan in 1980. In Britain tade union movement's relationship with the Labour Party frayed as party leadership embarked on privatisation plans at odds with what unions see as the worker's interests. However, it has strengthened once more after the Labour party's election of Ed Miliband who beat his brother David Miliband, to become leader of the party after Ed secured the trade union votes. Additionally, in the past, there was a group known as the Conservative Trade Unionists or CTU. A group formed of people who sympathized with right wing Tory policy but were Trade Unionists.
In contrast, in Germany, the relation between individual employees and employers is considered to be asymmetrical. In consequence, many working conditions are not negotiable due to a strong legal protection of individuals. However, the German flavour or works legislation has as its main objective to create a balance of power between employees organized in unions and employers organized in employers associations. This allows much wider legal boundaries for collective bargaining, compared to the narrow boundaries for individual negotiations. As a condition to obtain the legal status of a trade union, employee associations need to prove that their leverage is strong enough to serve as a counterforce in negotiations with employers. If such an employees association is competing against another union, its leverage may be questioned by unions and then evaluated in a court trial. In Germany, only very few professional associations obtained the right to negotiate salaries and working conditions for their members, notably the medical doctors association Marburger Bund and the pilots association Vereinigung Cockpit. The engineers association Verein Deutscher Ingenieure does not strive to act as a union, as it also represents the interests of engineering businesses.
The United States takes a more laissez-faire approach, setting some minimum standards but leaving most workers' wages and benefits to collective bargaining and market forces. Thus it comes closest to the above Anglo-Saxon model. Also the Eastern European countries that have recently entered into the EU come closest to the Anglo-Saxon model.
- “In the Continental European System of labour market regulation, the government plays an important role as there is a strong legislative core of employee rights, which provides the basis for agreements as well as a framework for discord between unions on one side and employers or employers’ associations on the other. This model was said to be found in EU core countries such as Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Italy, and it is also mirrored and emulated to some extent in the institutions of the EU, due to the relative weight that these countries had in the EU until the EU expansion by the inclusion of 10 new Eastern European member states in 2004.
- In the Anglo-Saxon System of labour market regulation, the government’s legislative role is much more limited, which allows for more issues to be decided between employers and employees and any union and/or employers’ associations which might represent these parties in the decision-making process. However, in these countries, collective agreements are not widespread; only a few businesses and a few sectors of the economy have a strong tradition of finding collective solutions in labour relations. Ireland and the UK belong to this category, and in contrast to the EU core countries above, these countries first joined the EU in 1973.
- In the Nordic System of labour market regulation, the government’s legislative role is limited in the same way as in the Anglo-Saxon system. However, in contrast to the countries in the Anglo-Saxon system category, this is a much more widespread network of collective agreements, which covers most industries and most firms. This model was said to encompass Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. Here, Denmark joined the EU in 1973, whereas Finland and Sweden joined in 1995.”
Concerning labour market regulation in the EU, Gold (1993) and Hall (1994) have identified three distinct systems of labour market regulation, which also influence the role that unions play:
Union law varies from country to country, as does the function of unions. For example, German and Dutch unions have played a greater role in management decisions through participation in corporate boards and co-determination than have unions in the United States. Moreover, in the United States, collective bargaining is most commonly undertaken by unions directly with employers, whereas in Austria, Denmark, Germany, or Sweden, unions most often negotiate with employers associations.
Diversity of international unions
In 2006 the European Court of Human Rights found Danish closed-shop agreements to be in breach of Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. It was stressed that Denmark and Iceland were among a limited number of contracting states that continue to permit the conclusion of closed-shop agreements.
In Britain, previous to this EU jurisprudence, a series of laws introduced during the 1980s by Margaret Thatcher's government restricted closed and union shops. All agreements requiring a worker to join a union are now illegal. In the United States, the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 outlawed the closed shop.
An EU case concerning Italy stated that, "The principle of trade union freedom in the Italian system implies recognition of the right of the individual not to belong to any trade union ("negative" freedom of association/trade union freedom), and the unlawfulness of discrimination liable to cause harm to non-unionized employees."
- A closed shop (US) or a "pre-entry closed shop" (UK) employs only people who are already union members. The compulsory hiring hall is an example of a closed shop – in this case the employer must recruit directly from the union, as well as the employee working strictly for unionized employers.
- A union shop (US) or a "post-entry closed shop" (UK) employs non-union workers as well, but sets a time limit within which new employees must join a union.
- An agency shop requires non-union workers to pay a fee to the union for its services in negotiating their contract. This is sometimes called the Rand formula. In certain situations involving state public employees in the United States, such as California, "fair share laws" make it easy to require these sorts of payments.
- An open shop does not require union membership in employing or keeping workers. Where a union is active, workers who do not contribute to a union may include those who approve of the union contract (free riders) and those who don't. In the United States, state level right-to-work laws mandate the open shop in some states. In Germany only open shops are legal; that is, all discrimination based on union membership is forbidden. This affects the function and services of the union.
Companies that employ workers with a union generally operate on one of several models:
Although their political structure and autonomy varies widely, union leaderships are usually formed through democratic elections. Some research, such as that conducted by the Australian Centre for Industrial Relations Research and Training, argues that unionized workers enjoy better conditions and wages than those who are not unionized.
In contrast, in several European countries (e.g. Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Switzerland), religious unions have existed for decades. These unions typically distanced themselves from some of the doctrines of orthodox Marxism, such as the preference of atheism and from rhetoric suggesting that employees' interests always are in conflict with those of employers. Some of these Christian unions have had some ties to centrist or conservative political movements and some do not regard strikes as acceptable political means for achieving employees' goals. In Poland, the biggest trade union Solidarity emerged as an anti-communist movement with religious nationalist overtones and today it supports the right-wing Law and Justice party.
 In Britain, the perceived left-leaning nature of trade unions has resulted in the formation of a reactionary right-wing trade union called
Unions are also delineated by the union organizers, who work by building up confidence, strong networks, and leaders within the workforce; and confrontational campaigns involving large numbers of union members. Many unions are a blend of these two philosophies, and the definitions of the models themselves are still debated.
Unions may also engage in broader political or social struggle. political parties.
In other circumstances, unions may not have the legal right to represent workers, or the right may be in question. This lack of status can range from non-recognition of a union to political or criminal prosecution of union activists and members, with many cases of violence and deaths having been recorded both historically and contemporarily.
A union may acquire the status of a "juristic person" (an artificial legal entity), with a mandate to negotiate with employers for the workers it represents. In such cases, unions have certain legal rights, most importantly the right to engage in collective bargaining with the employer (or employers) over wages, working hours, and other terms and conditions of employment. The inability of the parties to reach an agreement may lead to industrial action, culminating in either strike action or management lockout, or binding arbitration. In extreme cases, violent or illegal activities may develop around these events.
In Western Europe, professional associations often carry out the functions of a trade union. In these cases, they may be negotiating for white-collar and/or professional workers, such as physicians, engineers, or teachers. Typically such trade unions refrain from politics or pursue a more liberal politics than their blue-collar counterparts.
Unions may organize a particular section of skilled workers (Rengo, the Japanese national trade union confederation.
Structure and politics
Supporters of Unions, such as the ACTU or Australian Labor Party (ALP), often credit trade unions with leading the labour movement in the early 20th century. This generally sought to end child labour practices, improve worker safety, increase wages for both union workers and non-union workers, raise the entire society's standard of living, reduce the hours in a work week, provide public education for children, and bring other benefits to working-class families.
Until around 1990 Colombian trade unions were among the strongest in Latin America. However the 1980s expansion of paramilitarism in Colombia saw trade union leaders and members increasingly targeted for assassination, and as a result Colombia has been the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists for several decades. Between 2000 and 2010 Colombia accounted for 63.12% of trade unionists murdered globally. According to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) there were 2832 murders of trade unionists between 1 January 1986 and 30 April 2010, meaning that "on average, men and women trade unionists in Colombia have been killed at the rate of one every three days over the last 23 years."
In Costa Rica, trade unions first appeared in the late 1800s to support workers in a variety of urban and industrial jobs, such as railroad builders and craft tradesmen. After facing violent repression, such as during the 1934 United Fruit Strike, unions gained more power following the 1948 Costa Rican Civil War. Today, Costa Rican unions are strongest in the public sector, including the fields of education and medicine, but also have a strong presence in the agricultural sector. In general, Costa Rican unions support government regulation of the banking, medical, and education fields, as well as improved wages and working conditions.
Current old institutions like the Oil Workers Union and the National Education Workers' Union (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación, or SNTE) are examples of how the use of government benefits are not being applied to improve the quality in the investigation of the use of oil or the basic education in Mexico as long as their leaders show publicly that they are living wealthily. With 1.4 million members, the teachers' union is Latin America's largest; half of Mexico's government employees are teachers. It controls school curriculums, and all teacher appointments. Until recently, retiring teachers routinely "gave" their lifelong appointment to a relative or "sell" it for anywhere in between $4,700 and $11,800.
In the 1980s, Mexico began adhering to Washington Consensus policies, selling off state industries such as railroad and telecommunications to private industries. The new owners had an antagonistic attitude towards unions, which, accustomed to comfortable relationships with the state, were not prepared to fight back. A movement of new unions began to emerge under a more independent model, while the former institutionalized unions had become very corrupt, violent, and led by gangsters. From the 1990s onwards, this new model of independent unions prevailed, a number of them represented by the National Union of Workers.
During these 40 years, the primary aim of the labor unions was not to benefit the workers, but to carry out the state's economic policy under their cosy relationship with the ruling party. This economic policy, which peaked in the 1950 and 1960s with the so-called "Mexican Miracle", saw rising incomes and improved standards of living but the primary beneficiaries were the wealthy.
Before the 1990s, unions in Mexico had been historically part of a state institutional system. Between 1940, till the 1980s worldwide spread of neo-liberalism through the Washington Consensus, the Mexican unions did not operate independently, but instead as part of a state institutional system, largely controlled by the ruling party.
Pressures on unions continued into the 1980s and 90s. Private sector unions faced plant closures in many manufacturing industries and demands to reduce wages and increase productivity. Public sector unions came under attack by federal and provincial governments as they attempted to reduce spending, reduce taxes and balance budgets. Legislation was introduced in many jurisdictions reversing union collective bargaining rights, and many jobs were lost to contractors.
The post-World War II era also saw an increased pattern of unionization in the public service. Teachers, nurses, social workers, professors, and cultural workers (those employed in museums, orchestras, and art galleries) all sought private-sector collective bargaining rights. In the 1970s the federal government came under intense pressures to curtail labour cost and inflation. In 1975, the Liberal government under Prime Minister Trudeau introduced mandatory price and wage controls. Under the new law, wages increases were monitored and those ruled to be unacceptably high were rolled back by the government.
Collective bargaining was first recognized in 1937, following a strike by the United Auto Workers at the General Motors' plant in Oshawa, Ontario. Justice Ivan Rand issued a landmark legal decision following a strike in Windsor, Ontario, involving 17,000 Ford workers. He granted the union the compulsory check-off of union dues. Rand ruled that all workers in a bargaining unit benefit from a union-negotiated contract. Therefore, he reasoned they must pay union dues, although they do not have to join the union.
Labour unions have existed in Canada since the early 1800s. There is a record of skilled tradesmen in the Maritimes having a union organization during the War of 1812. Canadian unionism had early ties with Britain. Tradesmen who came from Britain brought traditions of the British trade union movement, and many British unions had branches in Canada. Canadian unionism ties with the United States eventually replaced those with Britain.
The economist Joseph Stiglitz has asserted that, "Strong unions have helped to reduce inequality, whereas weaker unions have made it easier for CEOs, sometimes working with market forces that they have helped shape, to increase it". The decline in unionization since WWII in the United States has been associated with a pronounced rise in income and wealth inequality and, since 1967, with loss of middle class income.
In 2010, the percentage of workers belonging to a union in the United States (or total labor union "density") was 11.4%, compared to 18.3% in Japan, 27.5% in Canada, and 70% in Finland. Union membership in the private sector has fallen under 7% – levels not seen since 1932. Unions allege that employer-incited opposition has contributed to this decline in membership. The most prominent unions are among public sector employees such as teachers and police. Members of unions are disproportionately older, male and residents of the Northeast, the Midwest, and California. Union workers average 10-30% higher pay than non-union in America after controlling for individual, job, and labor market characteristics.
Most unions in America are aligned with one of two larger umbrella organizations: the AFL-CIO created in 1955, and the Change to Win Federation which split from the AFL-CIO in 2005. Both advocate policies and legislation on behalf of workers in the United States and Canada, and take an active role in politics. The AFL-CIO is especially concerned with global trade issues.
Labor unions are legally recognized as representatives of workers in many industries in the United States. Their activity today centers on collective bargaining over wages, benefits, and working conditions for their membership, and on representing their members in disputes with management over violations of contract provisions. Larger unions also typically engage in lobbying activities and supporting endorsed candidates at the state and federal level.
Besides these "big three" there is a long list of smaller unions, some more influential then others. These smaller unions tend to specialize in one profession or economic sector. Next to these specialized unions there is also the Neutral and Independent Union that reject the pillarisation that, according to them, the "big three" represent. There is also a small Flemish nationalist union that exists only in the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, called the Vlaamse Solidaire Vakbond. The last Belgian union worth mentioning is the very small, but highly active anarchist union called the Vrije Bond.
With 54% of the workers belonging to a union Belgium is a country with one of the highest percentages of labor union membership. Only the Scandinavian countries have a higher labor union density. The biggest union with around 1.7 million members is the Christian democrat Confederation of Christian Trade Unions (ACV-CSC) which was founded in 1904. The origins of the union can be traced back to the "Anti-Socialist Cotton Workers Union" that was founded in 1886. The second biggest union is the socialist General Federation of Belgian Labour (ABVV-FGTB) which has a memberschip of more than 1.5 million. The ABVV-FGTB traces its origins to 1857, when the first Belgian union was founded in Ghent by a group of weavers. The socialist union, in its current form, was founded in 1898. The third 'big' union in Belgium is the liberal General Confederation of Liberal Trade Unions of Belgium (ACLVB-CGSLB) which is relatively small in comparison to the first two with a little under 290 thousand members. The ACLVB-CGSLB was founded in 1920 in an effort too unite the many small liberal unions. Back then the liberal union was known as the "Nationale Centrale der Liberale Vakbonden van België". In 1930 the ACLVB-CGSLB adopted its current name.
Trade unions (Danish: Fagforeninger) has a long tradition in Scandinavian society. Beginning in the mid-1800s, trade unions today have a large impact on the nature of employment and worker's rights in many of the Nordic countries. One of the largest trade unions in Sweden is the Scandinavian countries. In 2010, the percentage of workers belonging to a union (or total labor union "density") was 68.3% in Sweden and 54.8% in Norway, while it was 34.9% in Ireland and 18.4% in Germany. Excluding full-time students working part-time, Swedish union density was 70% in 2011, 2012 and 2013. In all the Nordic countries with a Ghent system - Sweden, Denmark and Finland - union density is about 70%. The considerably raised fees to Swedish union unemployment funds carried out by the new centre-right government in January 2007 caused large membership losses in both unemployment funds and trade unions. From 2006 to 2008 union density declined by six percentage points: from 77% to 71%.
Trade unions in Germany have a history reaching back to the German Confederation of Trade Unions (Deutsche Gewerkschaftsbund or DGB), which represents more than 6 million people (31 December 2011) and is the umbrella association of several single trade unions for special economic sectors.
In 2011 there were 6,135,126 members in TUC-affiliated unions, down from a peak of 12,172,508 in 1980. Trade union density was 14.1% in the private sector and 56.5% in the public sector.
Trade unionism in the United Kingdom was a major factor in economic crises during the 1960s and in particular the 1970s, culminating in the Winter of Discontent of late 1978 and early 1979, when a significant percentage of the nation's public sector workers went on strike. By this stage, some 12,000,000 workers in the United Kingdom were trade union members. However, the election of the Conservative Party led by Margaret Thatcher at the general election in May 1979, at the expense of Labour's James Callaghan, saw substantial trade union reform which saw the level of strikes fall. The level of trade union membership also fell sharply in the 1980s, and continued falling for most of the 1990s. The long decline of most of the industries in which manual trade unions were strong – e.g. steel, coal, printing, the docks – was one of the causes of this loss of trade union members.
Moderate New Model Unions dominated the union movement from the mid-19th century and where trade unionism was stronger than the political labour movement until the formation and growth of the Labour Party in the early years of the 20th century.
Trade unions by country
Trade union density figures are provided below for various countries:
The prevalence of unions in various countries can be assessed using the measure “union density”. The definition of union density is “the proportion of paid workers who are union members”.
In General Confederation of Labour (France).
In the United States, the first effective nation-wide labour organisation was the American Federation of Labor or AFL.
Trade unions were finally legalised in 1871, after a Royal Commission on Trade Unions in 1867 agreed that the establishment of the organisations was to the advantage of both employers and employees.
Legalisation and expansion
"If it were possible for the working classes, by combining among themselves, to raise or keep up the general rate of wages, it needs hardly be said that this would be a thing not to be punished, but to be welcomed and rejoiced at. Unfortunately the effect is quite beyond attainment by such means. The multitudes who compose the working class are too numerous and too widely scattered to combine at all, much more to combine effectually. If they could do so, they might doubtless succeed in diminishing the hours of labour, and obtaining the same wages for less work. They would also have a limited power of obtaining, by combination, an increase of general wages at the expense of profits."
More permanent trade unions were established from the 1850s, better resourced but often less radical. The London Trades Council was founded in 1860, and the Sheffield Outrages spurred the establishment of the Trades Union Congress in 1868, the first long-lived national trade union center. By this time, the existence and the demands of the trade unions were becoming accepted by liberal middle-class opinion. In Principles of Political Economy (1871) John Stuart Mill wrote:
In 1834, the Tolpuddle Martyrs' case, but soon collapsed.
The first attempts at setting up a national general union were made in the 1820s and 30s; the National Association for the Protection of Labour was established in 1830 by John Doherty, after an apparently unsuccessful attempt to create a similar national presence with the National Union of Cotton-spinners. The Association quickly enrolled approximately 150 unions, consisting mostly of textile related unions, but also including mechanics, blacksmiths, and various others. Membership rose to between 10,000 and 20,000 individuals spread across the five counties of Lancashire, Cheshire, Derby, Nottingham, and Leicester within a year. To establish awareness and legitimacy, the union started the weekly Voice of the People publication, having the declared intention "to unite the productive classes of the community in one common bond of union."
National general unions
 By the 1810s, the first labour organizations to bring together workers of divergent occupations were formed. Possibly the first such union was the General Union of Trades, also known as the Philanthropic Society, founded in 1818 in
Trade unions and collective bargaining were outlawed from no later than the middle of the 14th century when the Ordinance of Labourers was enacted in the Kingdom of England. As collective bargaining and early worker unions grew with the onset of the Industrial Revolution, the government began to clamp down on what it saw as the danger of popular unrest at the time of war. In 1799, the Combination Act was passed, which banned trade unions and collective bargaining by British workers. Although the unions were subject to often severe repression until 1824, they were already widespread in cities such as London. Workplace militancy had also manifested itself as Luddism and had been prominent in struggles such as the 1820 Rising in Scotland, in which 60,000 workers went on a general strike, which was soon crushed. Sympathy for the plight of the workers brought repeal of the acts in 1824, although the Combination Act 1825 severely restricted their activity.