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Introduction

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A trade union, also called a labour union or labor union (US), is an association of workers in a particular trade, industry, or company created for the purpose of securing improvement in pay, benefits, working conditions or social and political status through collective bargaining and working conditions through the increased bargaining power wielded by creation of a monopoly of the workers. 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.

Unions may organize a particular section of skilled workers (craft unionism), a cross-section of workers from various trades (general unionism), or attempt to organize all workers within a particular industry (industrial unionism). 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 Great Britain, trade unions became popular in many countries during the Industrial Revolution. Trade unions may be composed of individual workers, professionals, past workers, students, apprentices or the unemployed. Trade union density, or the percentage of workers belonging to a trade union, is highest in the Nordic countries.

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Poster for League for Industrial Democracy, designed by Anita Willcox during the Great Depression, showing solidarity with struggles of workers and poor in America

"Solidarity Forever", written by Ralph Chaplin in 1915, is a popular union anthem. It is sung to the tune of "John Brown's Body" and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic". Although it was written as a song for the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), other union movements, such as the AFL-CIO, have adopted the song as their own. The song has been performed by musicians such as Utah Phillips, Pete Seeger, Leonard Cohen, and was redone by Emcee Lynx and The Nightwatchman. It is still commonly sung at union meetings and rallies in the United States, Australia and Canada, and has also been sung at conferences of the Australian Labor Party and the Canadian New Democratic Party. This may have also inspired the hymn of the consumer cooperative movement, "The Battle Hymn of Cooperation", which is sung to the same tune.

It has been translated into several other languages, including French, German, Polish, Spanish, Swahili and Yiddish. Read more...

April in Labor History

Significant dates in labour history.


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Left pointing double angle quotation mark sh3.svg History is a great teacher. Now everyone knows that the labor movement did not diminish the strength of the nation but enlarged it. By raising the living standards of millions, labor miraculously created a market for industry and lifted the whole nation to undreamed of levels of production. Those who attack labor forget these simple truths, but history remembers them." Right pointing double angle quotation mark sh3.svg — Martin Luther King Jr., Speaking to the AFL-CIO on December 11, 1961.

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