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Trade unions


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The history of trade unions, from the dawn of the labor movement in Great Britain, mainland Europe, and the United States in the 19th century to the successes and challenges in the 20th and 21st centuries.

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Trade unions

  1. 1. Trade unions
  2. 2. What is a trade union? • A trade union, also called a labour union (Canada) or a labor union (U.S.) is an association of workers in a specific trade, industry, or company who work together with the intent of attaining improvements in pay, benefits (e.g., vacation, health care, and retirement), working conditions, or social and political status through the increased bargaining power wielded by the creation of a monopoly of the workers. • The trade union, through its leadership, negotiates with the employer in support of union members (rank and file members) and discusses labor contracts (collective bargaining) with employers. • The most frequent purpose of these associations or unions is “maintaining or improving the conditions of their employment”. • This may comprise discussing salaries, work rules, complaint procedures, rules governing hiring, discharging and promotion of workers, benefits, workplace safety and policies.
  3. 3. Red flag, a symbol of trade unions
  4. 4. Historical Development • As an organized movement, trade unionism originated in the 19th century in Great Britain, mainland Europe, and the United States. • In various countries, it is used interchangeably with the term labor movement. • Smaller alliances of workers began forming in Britain in the 18th century, but they remained infrequent and short-lived through most of the 19th century, partly due to the harsh opposition they were met with from businesses and government factions that felt aggrieved toward this new form of political and economic social action. • At that time, unions and unionists were often put on trial under numerous restraint-of- trade and conspiracy rulings in both Britain and the United States. • Even though union organizers in both countries dealt with similar barriers, their methods developed fairly differently: the British movement preferred political activism, which led to the founding of the Labour Party in 1900, whereas American unions practiced collective bargaining as a measure of achieving economic gains for their workers.
  5. 5. Labor union in the 1800s
  6. 6. UK Labour Party election poster from 1910
  7. 7. Legal Precedents • British unionism obtained its legal establishment in the Trade Union Act 1871. • In the United States, the same result was accomplished, though more gradually and indecisively, through a succession of court verdicts that reversed the use of bans, conspiracy laws, and other anti-union campaigns. • In 1866, the founding of the National Labor Union (NLU) signified an early effort to start a coalition of American unions. • Although the NLU was dissolved in the 1870s, several of its member trade unions still existed, representing such assorted professions as shoemakers, spinners, coal miners, and railway workers. • The founding of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) by numerous unions of skilled workers in 1886 marked the launch of a permanent far-reaching labor movement in the United States. • Its member groups consisted of national trade or craft unions that planned local unions and bargained for wages, hours, and working conditions.
  8. 8. 1886 advertisement notifying workers of a mass meeting that would end in the Haymarket Riot
  9. 9. Modern Developments • Throughout the 20th century, craft unions lost support to industrial unions. • This change was both historic and divisive because the earliest unions had improved in order to represent trained workers. • These groups believed that untrained workers were unsuitable for union organization. • In 1935, for instance, the AFL opposed efforts to unify the unskilled and later fired a small group of member unions that were trying to do so. • The expelled unions founded the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), which by 1941 had secured the success of industrial unionism by organizing the steel and automobile industries. • When the AFL and the CIO merged in 1955, they represented approximately 15 million workers altogether. • At the same time, mass unions began gaining momentum in Britain and numerous other European countries; by the end of the century, the industrial unions— supporting sizable numbers of unskilled or semiskilled workers—were acknowledged as influential negotiating forces.
  10. 10. Amalgamated Clothing Workers on strike, 1915
  11. 11. First Constitutional Convention of Congress of Industrial Organizations
  12. 12. Modern Developments – cont. • The strength of the labor movement at any given moment has been tied to overall economic circumstances. • In times of full employment and increasing salaries, unionism normally loses some of its appeal, mainly among younger workers, whereas it tends to have more support when there is a recession. • By the late 20th century, the globalization of the labor force had led to new challenges to the labor movement, efficiently undermining collective bargaining in industries whose workers could be exchanged for a cheaper labor force in a different part of the world.
  13. 13. Modern Developments – cont. • In the United States, the labor movement was also harmfully affected by the movement to carry out so-called right-to-work laws, which usually forbade the union shop, a once mutual section of labor contracts that required workers to join, or pay service dues to, a union as a condition of employment. • Right-to-work laws, which had been adopted in twenty-eight states and the territory of Guam by the beginning of the 21st century, were promoted by economic libertarians, trade associations, and corporate-financed think tanks as compulsory to defend the economic freedom of workers. • They had the real-world effect of threatening collective bargaining and restricting the political activities of unions by taking away their assets.
  14. 14. States with right-to-work laws as of 2015
  15. 15. Modern Developments – cont. • Certain other states adopted separate legislation to limit or ban collective bargaining or the right to strike by public-sector unions. • In Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (2018), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that public employees cannot be required to pay service fees to a union to uphold its collective-bargaining undertakings on their behalf.
  16. 16. Pro-union demonstration in front of the Supreme Court Building
  17. 17. Sources • •