Labor-unions

"Labour union" redirects here. For the Polish political party, see Labour Union (Poland). For the Canadian political party, see Union Labour.

A trade union (British Englishtrades union and amalgamation are also used), labour union (Canadian English) or labor union (American English) is an organization of workers who have banded together to achieve common goals such as protecting the integrity of its trade, achieving higher pay, increasing the number of employees an employer hires, and better 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".[1] 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 (craft unionism[2]), a cross-section of workers from various trades (general unionism[3]), or attempt to organize all workers within a particular industry (industrial unionism[3]). 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, when the lack of skill necessary to perform most jobs shifted employment bargaining power almost completely to the employers' side, causing many workers to be mistreated and underpaid. Trade unions may be composed of individual workers, professionals, past workers, students, apprentices and/or the unemployed.

Definition

Webb and Webb (1920) define a trade union as “a continuous association of wage earners for the purpose of maintaining or improving the conditions of their working lives.” According to Marx, 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). It is also interesting to note that despite its widespread use by writers, trade unions or unions of trades no longer constitute a large percentage of unionised employees. Thus, it would be more appropriate to use the term ‘labour unions.’ Nevertheless, the two terms are often used interchangeably (Gall et al., 2011).

History

The origins of unions' existence can be traced from the 18th century, where the rapid expansion of industrial society drew women, children, rural workers, and immigrants to the work force in numbers and in new roles. This pool of unskilled and semi-skilled labour spontaneously organized in fits and starts throughout its beginnings,[1] and would later be an important arena for the development of trade unions. Trade unions as such were endorsed by the Catholic Church towards the end of the 19th century. Pope Leo XIII in his "Magna Carta" – Rerum Novarum – spoke against the atrocities workers faced and demanded that workers should be granted certain rights and safety regulations.[4]

Early history

Trade unions have sometimes been seen as successors to the guilds of medieval Europe, though the relationship between the two is disputed, as the masters of the guilds employed workers (apprentices and journeyman) who were not allowed to organize.[5][6] These guilds restricted supply of goods and controlled instructional capital of artisanship and the progression of members from apprentice to craftsman, journeyman, and eventually to master. In the United Kingdom, the guilds formed livery companies and exerted significant influence over society.[7] Over time it became more difficult to become admitted to a guild or to become a master, which resulted in journeymen associations which were an early form of trade union.[8]

Trade unions and/or 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. Union organizing would eventually be outlawed everywhere and remain so until the middle of the 19th century.

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."[1] 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."[9]

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 benefit societies, which includes medieval guilds, Freemasons, Oddfellows, friendly societies, and other fraternal organizations.

The 18th century economist Adam Smith noted the imbalance in the rights of workers in regards to owners (or "masters"). In The Wealth of Nations, Book I, chapter 8, Smith wrote:

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. Even after the legitimisation of trade unions there was opposition, as the case of the Tolpuddle Martyrs shows.

The right to join a trade union is mentioned in article 23, subsection 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which also states in article 20, subsection 2 that "No one may be compelled to belong to an association". Prohibiting a person from joining or forming a union, as well as forcing a person to do the same (e.g. "closed shops" or "union shops", see below), whether by a government or by a business, is generally considered a human rights abuse. Similar allegations can be levelled if an employer discriminates based on trade union membership. Attempts by an employer, often with the help of outside agencies, to prevent union membership amongst their staff is known as union busting.

Prevalence


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”.[11]

Trade union density figures are provided below for various countries:[12][13][14]

Europe

File:Demonstratie ter verkrijging der achturige werkdag Weeknummer, 24-27 - Open Beelden - 13260.ogv Trade unions have a long history in Europe. Today, the highest rates of union membership are in 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.[15]

Since the 1980s, union membership has been declining in Europe.[16]

United Kingdom

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 unionism in the United Kingdom was a major factor in economic crises during the 1960s and in particular the 1970s, culminating some would argue 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.[17]

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 in the private sector was 14.1% and in the public sector it was 56.5%. [18]

Germany

Trade unions in Germany have a history reaching back to the German revolution in 1848, and still play an important role in the German economy and society. The most important labor organization is 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.

Scandinavia

Trade unions (Swedish: Fackföreningar) has a long tradition in Scandinavian society. Beginning in the mid-1800's, 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 LO, Landsorganisationen (English: The Country Organisation), incorporating unions such as the Swedish Metal Worker's Union (Industrifacket Metall), The Swedish Electrician's Union (Svenska elektrikerförbundet) and the Swedish Municipality Worker's Union (Svenska kommunalarbetareförbundet).

United States

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 electioneering at the state and federal level.

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.

In 2010, the percentage of workers belonging to a union in the United States (or total labor union "density") was 11.4%, compared to 18.4% in Japan, 27.5% in Canada, and 70% in Finland.[19] Union membership in the private sector has fallen under 7%[20] – 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.[21] Union workers average 10-30% higher pay than non-union in America after controlling for individual, job, and labor market characteristics.[22] 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[23] and, since 1967, with loss of middle class income.[24][25]

History

19th-century American unionism

In the early 19th century, many men from large cities put together the organization which we now call the Trade Union Movement. Individuals who were members of unions at this time were skilled, experienced, and knew how to get the job done. Their main reasoning for starting this movement was to put on strikes. However, they did not have enough men to fulfil their needs and the unions which began this trendy movement collapsed quickly. The Mechanics’ Union Trade Association was the next approach to bring workers together. In 1827, this union was the first US labour organization which brought together workers of divergent occupations. This was "the first city-wide federation of American workers, which recognised that all labour, regardless of trades, had common problems that could be solved only by united efforts as a class."[26] This organization took off when carpentry workers from Philadelphia went on strike to protest their pay wages and working hours. This union strike was only a premonition of what was to come in the future.

According to history.com:[27]

Besides acting to raise wages and improve working conditions, the federations espoused certain social reforms, such as the institution of free public education, the abolition of imprisonment for debt, and the adoption of universal manhood suffrage. Perhaps the most important effect of these early unions was their introduction of political action.

Workers realized what unionism was all about through the configuration of mechanics association and many people followed in their footsteps. The strike gave others hope that they could get their concerns out by word of mouth. Before this time many people did not speak about their concerns because of the lack of bodies. However, with more people comes more confidence. Strikes were a new way of speaking your mind and getting things accomplished.

The next established union which made an impact on the trade movement was the Grand National Consolidated Trade Union. This union was founded in 1834 as the first domestic association. However, this union was short lived due to the panic of 1837.

"[Andrew] Jackson thought the Bank of the United States hurt ordinary citizens by exercising too much control over credit and economic opportunity, and he succeeded in shutting it down. But the state banks' reckless credit policies led to massive speculation in Western lands. By 1837, after Van Buren had become president, banks were clearly in trouble. Some began to close, businesses began to fail, and thousands of people lost their land." [28]

"Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration."

This collapse of financial support and businesses left workers unemployed. Many of these workers, who became affected by the 1837 disaster, were members of a union. It was very hard for them to stay together in an economic hardship and the trade union movement came to a bump in the road. But the economy was restored by the early 1840s and trade unions started doing better. National labour unions were forming, different than ones in the past, consisting now of members of the same occupation.

The work force was drastically impacted by the Civil War and the economy was thriving. Many workers gained employment because of this economic boom and unions increased greatly. "More than 30 national craft unions were established during the 1860s and early '70s."[27] One of the significant national craft unions to be formed during this time was the National Labor Union (NLU). It was created in 1866 and included many types of workers.[30] Although relatively short-lived, the NLU paved the way for future American unions. Following the decline of the NLU, the Knights of Labor became the leading countrywide union in the 1860s. This union did not include Chinese, and partially included black people and women.[31]

Knights of Labor
Main article: Knights of Labor


The Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labor (KOL) was founded in Philadelphia in 1869 by Uriah Stephens and six other men. The union was formed for the purpose of organizing the flyers, educating and directing the power of the industrial masses, according to their Constitution of 1878.[33] The Knights gathered people to join the Order who believed in creating "the greatest good to the greatest amount of people". The Knights took their set goals very seriously. Some of which consisted of "productive work, civic responsibility, education, a wholesome family life, temperance, and self-improvement."[34]

The Knights of Labor worked as a secret fraternal society until 1881. The union grew slowly until the economic depression of the 1870s, when large numbers of workers joined the organization.[35] The Knights only permitted certain groups of individuals into their Order which promoted social division amongst the people around them. Bankers, speculators, lawyers, liquor dealers, gamblers, and teachers were all excluded from the union. These workers were known as the "non-producers" because their jobs did not entail physical labour. Factory workers and business men were known as the "producers" because their job constructed a physical product. The working force producers were welcomed into the Order. Women were also welcome to join the Knights, as well as black workers by the year 1883.[36] However, Asians were excluded. In November 1885, the Knights of a Washington city pushed to get rid of their Asian population. The knights were strongly for the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 because it greatly helped them deteriorate the Asian community.

American Federation of Labor


The American Federation of Labor (AFL), founded by Samuel Gompers, was established due to the vexation of many Knights who parted from the KOL. Many Knights joined the AFL because they set themselves apart from the KOL. The KOL "tried to teach the American wage-earner that he was a wage-earner first and a bricklayer, carpenter, miner [...] after. This meant that the Order was teaching something that was not so in the hope that sometime it would be.’ But the AFL affiliates organized carpenters as carpenters, bricklayers as bricklayers, and so forth, teaching them all to place their own craft interests before those of other workers."[37]

The AFL also differed from the KOL because it only allowed associations to be formed from workers and workers were the only people permitted to join them. Unlike the AFL, the knights also allowed small businesses to join. A small business is "An independently owned and operated business that is not dominant in its field of operation and conforms to standards set by the Small Business Administration or by state law regarding number of employees and yearly income called also small business concern."[38]

Congress of Industrial Organizations

The CIO was put forth by Mr. John Kamau when troubles with the AFL persisted, after the death of Gompers in 1924. Many members of the union requested that they switch the rules which were laid out by Gompers. They wanted to support inexperienced workmen rather than only focusing on experienced workers of one occupation. John L. Lewis was the first member of the AFL to act upon this issue in 1935. He was the founder of the Committee for the Industrial Organization which was an original union branched from the AFL. The Committee for the Industrial Organization transformed into the Congress of Industrial Organization. The Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) encompassed the largest sustained surge of worker organization in American history.[39]

In the 1930s, the CIO grabbed many of their member’s attention through victorious strikes. In 1935, employees of Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company formed their own union called the United Rubber Workers. The Rubber Workers went on strike in 1936 to protest an increase in product with lower pay wages. "There were forty-eight strikes in 1936 in which the strikers remained at their jobs for at least one day; in twenty-two of these work stoppages, involving 34,565 workers, the strikers stayed inside the plants for more than twenty-four hours."[40] This tactic was called a "sit-down" strike which entailed workers to stop doing their job and sit in their place of employment. During these strikes, business owners were unable to bring in new workers to replace the ones who were on strike because they were still in their seats at the factory. This was unlike any strikes in the past. Before this time, workers showed their fury by leaving their factory and standing in picket lines. Walter Reuther was in control of the union at this time and moved forward to higher roles during 1955.

AFL-CIO

Main article: AFL-CIO

On 5 May 1955, union delegates gathered in New York on behalf of 16 million workers, to witness and support the merger of The American Federation of Labor and The Congress of Industrial Organization. The merger was a result of 20 years of effort put forth by both the AFL and CIO presidents, George Meany and Walter Reuther. The gathered delegates applauded loudly when the time came to nominate officers for the new AFL-CIO. Reuther who was named one of the 37 vice presidents of the union, nominated Meany for President. After Meany’s retirement in 1979, Lane Kirkland took over his position. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was elected in 1952, was the first to publicly address and congratulate the new union, which was now the largest in the world.

In Eisenhower’s telephone broadcast to the United States he acknowledged the impact union members had made to better the nation and one of these impacts was "the development of the American philosophy of labour."[41] Eisenhower states three principles which he feels apply to the philosophy of labour. The first principles states that: "the ultimate values of mankind are spiritual; these values include liberty, human dignity, opportunity and equal rights and justice."[41] Eisenhower was stating that every individual deserves a job with decent compensation, practical hours, and good working conditions that leave them feeling fulfilled. His second principle speaks of the economic interest of the employer and employee being a mutual prosperity.[41] The employers and employees must work together in order for there to be the greatest amount of wealth for all. Workers have a right to strike when they feel their boundaries are being crossed and the best way for the employer to fix the employees unhappiness is to come to a mutual agreement. His last principle which he preached stated: "labour relations will be managed best when worked out in honest negotiation between employers and unions, without Government’s unwarranted interference."[41] Eisenhower was saying that when both parties cooperate and act in mature fashion, it will be easier to work out situations and a better outcome will result because of it. Once he was done delivering the speech, everyone across the U.S. knew of the new AFL-CIO whose "mission [was] to bring social and economic justice to our nation by enabling working people to have a voice on the job, in government, in a changing global economy and in their communities."[42]

This new alliance is made up of 56 nationwide and intercontinental labour unions. The unions which are a part of this alliance are composed of 2.5 million working Americans and 8.5 million other affiliated members. These members do not fall under one job title but they are very diversely spread out among the working area. Their jobs go from doctors to truck drivers and painters to bankers. The mission of these workers and the AFL-CIO "is to improve the lives of working families – to bring economic justice to the workplace and social justice to our nation. To accomplish this mission we will build and change the American labour movement."[43]

Canada

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. A key development in the growth of unionism came in 1872 when printers in Toronto went on strike for a nine-hour-day. Union activity was illegal at the time, and many prominent labour leaders were arrested. Mass protests ensued, resulting in the dropping of charges and the legalization of union activity. The first national labour organization was formed in 1873 at a national convention in Toronto. The organization later became the Trades and Labour Congress of Canada in 1883, a forerunner of the present Canadian Labour Congress.

The early 1900s saw massive escalations in labour activity as workers demanded universal eight-hour days, union recognition and better wages. Between 1919 and 1920 there were over 1500 strikes involving an estimated 375,000 workers. The largest of these was the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919, which involved over 25,000 Winnipeg workers. The government used strike breakers, police and army to violently end the strike. The early 1900s also saw the development of labour politics. In 1921 the Communist Party of Canada was founded, and in 1932 the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation was created. Both parties supported worker rights and were critical of capitalism. The Co-operative Commonwealth Federation eventually became the New Democratic Party.

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.

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.

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.[44]

Mexico

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.[45]

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.[45]

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.[45]

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.[46]

Colombia

Until around 1990 Colombian trade unions were among the strongest in Latin America.[47] 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.[48][49][50] Between 2000 and 2010 Colombia accounted for 63.12% of trade unionists murdered globally.[51] According to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) there were 2832 murders of trade unionists between 1 January 1986 and 30 April 2010,[51] 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."[52]

India

Main article: Trade unions in India

In India the Trade Union movement is generally divided on political lines. According to provisional statistics from the Ministry of Labour, trade unions had a combined membership of 24,601,589 in 2002. As of 2008, there are 11 Central Trade Union Organisations (CTUO) recognised by the Ministry of Labour.[53]

Japan

Main article: Labor unions in Japan

Labour unions emerged in Japan in the second half of the Meiji period as the country underwent a period of rapid industrialization.[54] Until 1945, however, the labour movement remained weak, impeded by lack of legal rights,[55] anti-union legislation,[54] management-organized factory councils, and political divisions between “cooperative” and radical unionists.[56] In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, the US Occupation authorities initially encouraged the formation of independent unions.[55] Legislation was passed that enshrined the right to organize,[57] and membership rapidly rose to 5 million by February, 1947.[55] The organization rate, however, peaked at 55.8% in 1949 and subsequently declined to 18.2% (2006).[58] The labour movement went through a process of reorganization from 1987 to 1991[59] from which emerged the present configuration of three major labour union federations, Rengo, Zenroren, and Zenrokyo, along with other smaller national union organizations.

Australia

Supporters of Unions, such as the ACTU or Australian Labor Party, often credit trade unions with leading the labour movement in the early 20th century, which 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.[60]

Structure and politics

Unions may organize a particular section of skilled workers (craft unionism, traditionally found in Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and the USA[2]), a cross-section of workers from various trades (general unionism, traditionally found in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Netherlands, the UK and the USA[3]), or attempt to organize all workers within a particular industry (industrial unionism, found in Australia, Canada, Germany, Finland, Norway, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, and the USA[3]). These unions are often divided into "locals", and united in national federations. These federations themselves will affiliate with Internationals, such as the International Trade Union Confederation. However, in Japan, union organization is slightly different due to the presence of enterprise unions, i.e. unions that are specific to a specific plant or company. These enterprise unions, however, join industry-wide federations which in turn are members of Rengo, the Japanese national trade union confederation.[3]

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.[3]

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 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.[61][62]

Unions may also engage in broader political or social struggle. Social Unionism encompasses many unions that use their organizational strength to advocate for social policies and legislation favourable to their members or to workers in general. As well, unions in some countries are closely aligned with political parties.

Unions are also delineated by the service model and the organizing model. The service model union focuses more on maintaining worker rights, providing services, and resolving disputes. Alternately, the organizing model typically involves full-time 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.

In Britain, the perceived left-leaning nature of trade unions has resulted in the formation of a reactionary right-wing trade union called Solidarity which is supported by the far-right BNP. In Denmark, there are some newer apolitical "discount" unions who offer a very basic level of services, as opposed to the dominating Danish pattern of extensive services and organizing.[63]

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.[2] In Poland, the biggest trade union Solidarity emerged as an anti-communist movement with religious nationalist overtones[64] and today it supports the right-wing Law and Justice party.[65]

Although their political structure and autonomy varies widely, union leaderships are usually formed through democratic elections.

Some research, such as that conducted by the ACIRRT,[66] argues that unionized workers enjoy better conditions and wages than those who are not unionized.

Shop types

Companies that employ workers with a union generally operate on one of several models:

  • 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.

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."[67]

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.

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.[68]

Diversity of international unions

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.[69] 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.

Concerning labour market regulation in the EU, Gold (1993)[70] and Hall (1994)[71] have identified three distinct systems of labour market regulation, which also influence the role that unions play:

  • “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.”[72]

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 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.

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 left-wing, socialist, or social democratic party, but many exceptions exist, including some of the aforementioned Christian unions.[2] In the United States, trade unions are almost always aligned with the Democratic Party with a few exceptions. For example, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters has supported Republican Party candidates on a number of occasions and the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) endorsed Ronald Reagan in 1980. In Britain tade ununion 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.

Historically, the Republic of Korea has regulated collective bargaining by requiring employers to participate but collective bargaining has been legal only if held in sessions before the lunar new year.

International unionisation

The largest trade union federation in the world is the Brussels-based International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), which has approximately 309 affiliated organizations in 156 countries and territories, with a combined membership of 166 million. The ITUC is a federation of national trade union centres, such as the AFL-CIO in the United States and the Trades Union Congress in the United Kingdom. Other global trade union organizations include the World Federation of Trade Unions.

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.

Criticisms

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.

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 comparative advantage in labour, making it more profitable to purchase disorganised, low-wage labour from these countries.[73] Milton Friedman, economist and advocate of laissez-faire capitalism, 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.[74]

Union publications

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.

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.

Film

See also

Organized labour portal

Types

Federation

References

Further reading

  • 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[1]
  • European Commission, Directorate General for Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion:
  • The Early English Trade unions: Documents from Home Office Papers in the Public Record Office by A. Aspinall[2]
  • Magnificent Journey: The Rise of the Trade unions, by Francis Williams[3]
  • Trade unions by Allan Flanders[4]
  • Trade Union Government and Administration in Great Britain by B C Roberts[5]
  • Union Power: The Growth and Challenge in Perspective by Claud Cockburn[6]
  • Directory of Employer's Associations, Trade unions, Joint Organisations[7]
  • 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[8]
  • 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

Notes

External links

  • LabourStart international trade union news service
  • RadioLabour
  • New Unionism Network
  • Younionize Global Union Directory
Australia
  • Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) – Australian Council of Trade Unions
Europe
  • 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
United States
  • Labor rights in the USA
  • magazine
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