Trade Unions

“The trade union movement represents the organized economic power of the workers… It is in reality the most potent and the most direct social insurance the workers can establish.”

Samuel Gompers

What is a Trade Union? – 

A Trade 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”. This may include the negotiation of wages, work rules, complaint procedures, rules governing hiring, firing and promotion of workers, benefits, workplace safety and policies.

Originating in Europe, trade unions became popular in many countries during the IndustrialRevolution, 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.

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% inGermany.

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

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.

Yellow/Company Unions –

A company union is a trade union which is located within and run by a company or by the national government, and is not affiliated with an independent trade union. Company unions were outlawed in the United States by the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, due to their use as agents for interference with independent unions, but company unions were and are common in many other countries.

The International Labor Organisation defines a company union as “A union limited to a single company which dominates or strongly influences it, thereby limiting its influence.”

Supporters of company unions claim they are more efficient in responding to worker grievances than independent trade unions. Proponents also note that trade unions do not necessarily have the company’s best interests at heart; company unions are designed to resolve disputes within the framework of maximum organizational profitability.

Opponents use this same logic to argue against company unions. The independent nature of trade unions, they argue, provides them with an outsider’s perspective necessary for just resolution of conflict. Furthermore, independent unions are able to propose large-scale changes to work agreements – such as overtime rules and salary schedules – whereas company unions usually address concerns on a smaller scale.

My Views – 

  • Trade unions are very beneficial to workers who want to voice their opinions but feel they can’t go directly to their employer.
  • Trade unions give employees a voice and fight their cases for higher work, reduced overtime, complaints and general working conditions.
  • Yellow/Company unions are run by management or government which more often than not means that the issues don’t get addressed or don’t get addressed as fully as they would by a trade union.
  • Everyone is entitled to join a trade union however in some countries there isn’t much awareness of trade unions or their advantages and disadvantages.

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