What is Organized Labor?

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  • Written By: Patrick Roland
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
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  • Last Modified Date: 04 October 2019
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Organized labor is another term for a labor union. Organized labor refers to a collection of professionals who join together in order to negotiate working conditions with an employer. This tactic has enjoyed a history that stretches from the industrial revolution to modern times. These labor unions consist of two distinct types, horizontal and vertical, and are utilized by both white-collar and blue-collar forms of employment.

The origins of organized labor are hazy at best but are believed to have stemmed form medieval European trade guilds. Unions were organized intermittently over the centuries but finally crystallized in the 1800s in Europe and the United States. Factory workers banded together for better pay, better working conditions and better hours, and if demands were not met, employees often went on strike. A labor strike means that members of a particular union refuse to work until demands are met, resulting in a stoppage of work, which could cause the company to lose money.

Collective bargaining is considered the key tool of organized labor. This is a negotiation involving leaders of the union and company leaders. Collective bargaining traditionally precedes a labor strike and is intended to issue the workers' demands to management. Often, amendments and changes to the demands are made until both sides are satisfied, and if not, the labor union could call for a strike.


Organized labor is found around the world and in fields as diverse as electricians, screen actors, public employees, steel workers and more. Labor unions are categorized into either of two fields, horizontal or vertical. Both types serve the same purpose.

Horizontal organized labor represents workers who share a similar craft. For example, a brick layers union would represent only workers who deal strictly with building with bricks. Coworkers, for example, who drive cement trucks or act as carpenters would not be represented by this union and could have their own.

A vertical form of organized labor represents and entire organization. An example is a unionized city government. In this labor union, everyone from administrative assistants to accountants to high-ranking city officials are represented by a single organized labor union. In this case, a mayor or governing board would not be members of the union because they are in control and would be the people with whom the union would negotiate.


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