Trade unions, also known as labor unions in the United States, are organizations of workers in a common trade who have organized into groups dedicated to improving the workers’ work life. A trade union generally negotiates with employers on behalf of its members, advocating for improvements such as better working conditions, compensation and job security. These unions play an important role in industrial relations — the relationship between employees and employers.
The origins of trade unions can be found in guilds and fraternal organizations composed of people practicing a common trade, which date back hundreds of years. However, the modern conception of trade unions, in which unions represent a specific set of workers in negotiations with employers, dates back only to the 18th century. Membership in unions only became widespread in the United States and Europe in the 19th century.
Trade unions are associations of workers formed to represent their interests and improve their pay and working conditions.
There are four main types of trade unions.
These represent workers with particular skills e.g. plumbers and weavers. These workers may be employed in a number of industries.
These unions include workers with a range of skills and from a range of industries.
These seek to represent all the workers in a particular industry, for instance, those in the rail industry.
White collar unions
These unions represent particular professions, including pilots and teachers. Unions in a country, often belong to a national union organization. For example, in India, a number of unions belong to the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC).
This is the oldest and one of the largest trade union federations in the country. A number of them also belong to international trade union organizations such as the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, which has more than 230 affiliated organizations in 150 countries.
Role of Trade Unions:
Unions carry out a number of functions. They negotiate on behalf of their members on pay scales, working hours and working conditions. These areas can include basic pay, overtime payments, holidays, health safety, promotion prospects, maternity and paternity rights and job security.
Depending on the circumstances, unions may try to protect or improve workers’ rights. They also provide information on a range of issues for their members, for instance on pensions. They help with education and training schemes and may also participate in measures designed to increase demand for the product produced and hence for labour.
Some also provide a range of benefits to their members including strike pay, sickness pay and unemployment pay. In addition many get involved in pressurizing their governments to adopt a legislation, which will benefit their members or workers in general, such as fixing a national minimum wage.