What is a Trade Union?

Malcolm Tatum

Also known as a labor union in some places around the world, a trade union is an organization that is designed to function as an advocate and protector for workers engaged in a specific trade. This advocacy often takes the form of negotiating benefits and wage requirements for the members of the union, as well as lobbying state and federal governments for legislation that protects the rights of those workers. A trade union is also often concerned with the working conditions of its members, especially in relation to the safety of those conditions.

Workers form trade unions to collectively bargain with employers.
Workers form trade unions to collectively bargain with employers.

Depending on the nature of the trade union, the leadership of the organization may also work with employers and state officials on several other matters of concern to their members. For example, union leadership may work with employers in order to structure processes to manage complaints in a manner that is considered equitable to all parties concerned. In like manner, trade union officials may work with employers to create and maintain standards for hiring and processes for terminating employees who are members of the union. In some situations, unions may work with employers to provide limits on the number of hours each week that an employee is allowed to work, a factor that is often related to creating a safe working environment.

Members of labor unions engage in collective bargaining with their employees so that they may receive acceptable wages.
Members of labor unions engage in collective bargaining with their employees so that they may receive acceptable wages.

A trade union will often maintain a lobby that represents the interests of its members in terms of new and existing laws. In this capacity, a union may work with members of specific political parties or lawmakers currently serving in the government to draft and support legislation that protects the rights of their constituency. It is not unusual for a trade union to also support a candidate for a specific office during an election year.

Trade union advocacy can take the form of lobbying the federal government for legislation protecting workers' rights.
Trade union advocacy can take the form of lobbying the federal government for legislation protecting workers' rights.

The value of a trade union is somewhat controversial in today’s world. Proponents of trade or labor unions believe they are necessary to ensure that employees are treated equitably by all and not just some employers. Often, supporters point to the long history of reforms in the workplace made due to the presence of a strong union. Critics sometimes take the stance that the idea of a union is obsolete in today’s world, especially in nations where federal and state laws already protect the rights of workers in general. At times, these critics will also point to situations in the past where unions were compromised by influence from outside forces and did not provide full support to their members. While the debate on unions continue, industries that are currently unionized are likely to remain so for many years to come.

Trade unions ensure safe working conditions on construction sites.
Trade unions ensure safe working conditions on construction sites.
Trade unions might be formed around specific types of laborers, such as of miners.
Trade unions might be formed around specific types of laborers, such as of miners.

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Discussion Comments

behaviourism

Whatever your opinions on unions, many people died in the 19ths and early 20th century so that they could exist- and that was just in the United States, Britain, and other parts of Europe. Currently, the struggle for workers' rights is still at the same point in some countries.

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