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The Introduction of Labor Unions


The history of labor unions in most countries can be traced to the time when various nations undertook the construction of their infrastructure and the evolution of industries (Devine, 2008, para. 1-6). During this period, a large number of people secured employment in various companies. However, the working conditions in these companies were not conducive. In addition, most workers were oppressed and had to come up with means of putting their grievances known to those in the firm’s management team.

As a result, alliances were formed to represent employees’ grievances. Labor unions sometimes referred to as trade unions, represent an organization of workforce who have come together to make a difference from the status quo in their areas of special concern such as remuneration and working environment. The work of the union is to agree on the terms and conditions of employment with employers on behalf of the workers. Many nations experienced the creation of trade unions in different ways depending on the status quo of the nation at the time of formation (Devine, 2008, p.72).

Labor unions in Europe

In Europe, the industrial revolution during the eighteenth century arose from workers who had previously not been employed to take up positions in the labor market. This called for the representation of these workers by labor unions. In the United States, the trade unions which had been formed earlier played a significant role towards the independence of the country gaining independence.

Even though their substantial efforts towards the basis of independence were unproductive, the thoughts they introduced which related to the protection of workers spearheaded a change that led to workers earning a little respect. Other than the industrial revolution, World War 1 brought with it political based ideologies that aimed at controlling workers through interfering with the structure and the function of trade unions.

Union history in Europe can be traced during the earlier systems which were commonly referred to as the guild. Their main objective was to protect artisans by controlling skill, competence as well as advancement. The existence of traditional guilds was to improve their members’ lifestyle by exercising control of artisanship over instructional capital. In addition, these guilds were concerned with the advancement of members starting with apprentice through craftsman, journeyman and ultimately to master and grandmaster in areas of their craft.

Member’s accommodation is facilitated by the guilds to ensure mobility. However, there exists controversy on the relationship involving labor unions and guilds (Devine, 2008, p.74). This arises from the fact that the relationship is imperfectly linear. It is more sensual to consider guilds as forerunners of the union since they were the first illustration of workers’ organization in terms of their own set of laws other than the employer’s set of laws. Early unions in Europe were occasionally associated with political parties which influenced most of their activities. The last phases of the twentieth century however saw the decline of trade unions because of the state of unemployment in the country where those who were expected to form unions were unemployed (Skurzynski, 2009, p.54).

Today, union organizations in Europe exist in three structures. These include industrial, craft, and general unionism. The function of these unions is achieved by national federations. For a company to employ a worker, it should be within a union. The operation of the unions is based on one among the several models which are referred to as shops. Unions operate under two shops; a closed union shop or a closed union shop. Those workers who are members of a union are directly employed by a closed shop union. This is to say that workers seeking employment with the closed union must be members of the union. A union shop on the other hand employs even those workers who are presently not members of any union but puts forward a time boundary within which those who are newly hired ought to become members of a union.

Agency shops are established at strategic points where workers not in a union can negotiate their contracts. A specified fee sometimes referred to us Rand formula, is paid to the shops to cater for the services.

In certain circumstances concerning U.S. government employees, reasonable laws make it simple to make these kinds of payments. Discrimination of members based on their union membership is not in any way a characteristic of open shop kind of union. Active unions promote the benefit of workers from open shops. However, they are not allowed to make any contributions to the labor union.

The unions also ensure that employee satisfaction is enhanced as well as ensuring that the working environment and conditions are safe and conducive. The unions should claim the right to the uniqueness and thus reserve the right to own up or refute membership to prospective union members. However, this should be based on genuine factors such as the worker’s trade, skill, and their status.

Labor unions in America

In America, trade unions began at the time when the country was battling with civil war together with reconstruction and construction of infrastructure such as the railway line. Before the civil war, slavery was the main source of labor for most firms. The period that saw the rise of labor unions is one in which America was going through radical economic development (Commons, Andrews & Perlman, n.d, p. 73).

Civil wars had managed to put an end to slavery. This followed the establishment of improved conditions in the employment of workers. During the nineteenth century, the first national union named the National Labor Union was established in 1866. The union was general in the sense that it did not in any way restrict particular workers to it (Foner, 1991, p. 34). By this time, former slaves started working on new and improved conditions. They also started earning a living, though their wages were meager because most of them were uneducated. However, unskilled workers were disadvantaged because labor unions formed ended up recognizing the skilled laborers most of whom saw a slight improvement in the working conditions (Skurzynski, 2009, p.69)

Trade unions faced controversy in the U.S for some time due to failure in understanding their benefits to employers and employees. Today, labor unions are lawfully accepted as workers’ representatives in most industries. Employees of the public sector especially the police and teachers constitute most of the well-known labor unions. These labor unions are interested in collective bargaining of benefits, wages, in addition to the working environment for their membership along with a representation of their members in cases where management tries to infringe contract provisions.

Unions are a central political factor through the enlistment of memberships along with coalitions by way of like-minded advocate organizations. Currently, in the United States, the majority of labor unions are members of a larger overall organization: The American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).

Benefits of labor unions

The introduction of labor unions has greatly improved working conditions for many employees. Currently, all workers in a given company are treated equally and fairly within a union workplace. Prejudice no longer has a role to play in the promotion of workers or the determination of increments in their salaries and wages. The union agreement specifies when salary increment should be implemented and the period that an employee qualifies for promotion in a company. In addition, unions ensure that all workers are equally subject to the same job responsibilities and guidelines (Beam & McFadden, 2001, p. 65).

Seniority is another key advantage of union association for workers. A business is vulnerable to subject promotion to qualifications if it operates in exclusion from union representation. The credentials for promotion in a union are frequently based upon seniority. The stage of seniority required is specified in the union contract. Consequently, loyalty is awarded depending on a person’s individual opinion of the credentials of candidates looking forward to a promotion (Beam & McFadden, 2001, p.32).

Policies are consistent within union businesses. Businesses that do not involve the representation by unions can frequently make changes on their prospect of workers without this being noticed. These responsibilities are exclusively determined in advance in a union workplace. Both the employees and employers benefit from these advantages. The latter take pleasure in more consistency for the reason that they know what is anticipated of them. Less time is spent on training to put into effect constant changes as a result of employers enjoying benefits from a more substantial workforce.

Representation of employees is well done for union workers who do not necessarily have to make negotiations by themselves. However, it is the unions in which they are members which negotiate on their behalf. Fair and just handling of the employee in addition to guarding against favoritism in the workplace is therefore ensured. A worker gains an enhanced position in discussions when he or she is attached to the mainstream of the workforce. Without unions, workers are limited to negotiating for better working conditions or higher pay on their own.

Labor unions are also attributed with bringing to an end the instances of child labor which had for a long time affected many children. The social standards of living are also believed to have been raised by labor unions through minimizing the number of workweek hours and putting in place public education for the children (Beam & McFadden, 2001, p.60).


Since their implementation, labor unions have effectively put a mark on the labor market.

Unions have played a major role in the improvement of the employee-employer relationship by establishing a link between the two thus enhancing communication. Labor unions are still in place in most countries and are continuously putting up strategies to further improve and raise the living standards of the working class, end child labor and improve the wages and salaries paid to workers.

Reference List

Beam, B. T. & McFadden, J. J. (2001). Employee Benefits. Chicago: Dearborn financial Publishing Inc. Web.

Commons, J. R. Andrews, J.B & Perlman, S. (n.d) History of Labour in the United States. Vol. 2.New York: The Macmillan Co. Publication. Web.

Devine, J. (2008). The history of labour unions. Ezine Articles. Web.

Foner, P.S. (1991). History of the labor movement in the United States. Vol. 2. U.S.A.: International Publishers Co. Inc. Web.

Skurzynski, G. (2009). Sweat and blood: a history of U.S. labor unions. Minneapolis: Twenty First Century Books. Web.