What is a Trade Union?

Published by Thomas Herold in Laws & Regulations

'Trade Union' is explained in detail and with examples in the Laws & Regulations edition of the Herold Financial Dictionary, which you can get from Amazon in Ebook or Paperback edition.

A Trade Union refers to labor unions in the United States and Canada. These organizations work through senior leadership to strike deals with the employers for the benefit of the members to negotiate labor contracts via the process of collective bargaining with the employer. While there are a variety of purposes for such associations, the most important one centers on bettering the working conditions of the employees. This might involve negotiating a range of topics and issues for the good of all member employees. Among these are work rules, wage negotiations, rules for hiring, promotions, and firing, complaint handling procedures, workplace safety, and benefits administration and fair distribution policies.

Unions often gather and organize a certain segment of a skilled worker population as with craftsmen unions. They also can organize all of the laborers in a given industry, as with industrial unionism. Finally, they may attempt to gather up a representative segment of workers from a range of trades, as in general unionism. Whatever type of unionizing they represent, their agreements which they arrange on behalf of the rank and file members become binding on both the employer and the union members (and even on nonunion member employees in some cases). Most trade unions rely on a constitution that lays out the government of the bargaining and tactics. It also provides them with overall leadership and policies which vary according to the industry in which they operate.

Such trade unions began in Great Britain, which was for centuries the center of the industrialized world at the time of the 1700s through early 1900s. They then became exported to countless other industrial and industrializing nations throughout the industrial revolution. Trade unions are often comprised of a range of professionals, present workers, past workers, apprentices, students, and even unemployed individuals. Surprisingly, the density of trade unions today remains the highest in the Scandinavian nations of Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland.

The roots of the trade unions date back to the 1700s in Britain. The dramatic expansion of the industrial world started occurring then. This brought in rural workers, women, and children alongside immigrants to the city-based work forces in huge numbers and new capacities. Semi-skilled and unskilled labor began to organize abruptly until the rise of the trade unions. They have often been hailed as the heirs to the Medieval European guilds. This is not an entirely accurate portrayal, as the guild masters actually employed journeymen and apprentices who were forbidden to organize according to the various guild charters of the time.

The Kingdom of England first banned such collective bargaining practices and trade unions in general with the Ordinance of Labourers by the 1300s. However the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution four hundred years later in Britain changed the scene to the point that the national government had to come down against the peril of popular uprisings in the era of the Napoleonic Wars. British workers were banned from collective bargaining practices and trade union membership and activities with the 1799 passed Combination Act. Such organizations were repressed all the way through 1824, though this did not stop them from multiplying around the industrial cities of Britain, and especially London.

The 1820 Rising in Scotland saw 60,000 industrial workers embark on a general strike that had to be forcefully crushed by the government troops. Workers’ conditions became so appalling that in 1824 the sympathetic Parliament repealed its various anti-trade union acts. The first effective union in Britain was likely the General Union of Trades, or the Philanthropic Society, which arose in Manchester in 1818. As trade unions still remained illegal at this time, they used the deceptive society name in an attempt to disguise the true purpose of the organization.

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The term 'Trade Union' is included in the Laws & Regulations edition of the Herold Financial Dictionary, which you can get from Amazon in Ebook or Paperback edition.