A trade union
(or a labor union
in the U.S.
) is an association of workers forming a legal unit or legal personhood
, usually called a "bargaining unit", which acts as bargaining agent and legal representative for a unit of employees in all matters of law or right arising from or in the administration of a collective agreement. Labour unions typically fund the formal organization, head office, and legal team functions of the labour union through regular fees or union dues. The delegate staff of the labour union representation in the workforce are made up of workplace volunteers who are appointed by members in democratic elections.
Today, unions are usually formed for the purpose of securing improvement in pay, benefits, working conditions, or social and political status through collective bargaining by the increased bargaining power wielded by the banding of the workers. The trade union, through an elected leadership and bargaining committee, 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 status of employees including promotions, just cause conditions for termination, and employment benefits.
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.
The eight-hour day movement or 40-hour week movement, also known as the short-time movement, was a social movement to regulate the length of a working day, preventing excesses and abuses. It had its origins in the Industrial Revolution in Britain, where industrial production in large factories transformed working life. The use of child labour was common. The working day could range from 10 to 16 hours, and the work week was typically six days a week. Robert Owen had raised the demand for a ten-hour day in 1810, and instituted it in his socialist enterprise at New Lanark. By 1817 he had formulated the goal of the eight-hour day and coined the slogan: "Eight hours' labour, Eight hours' recreation, Eight hours' rest". Women and children in England were granted the ten-hour day in 1847. French workers won the 12-hour day after the February Revolution of 1848. A shorter working day and improved working conditions were part of the general protests and agitation for Chartist reforms and the early organisation of trade unions.
The International Workingmen's Association took up the demand for an eight-hour day at its Congress in Geneva in 1866, declaring "The legal limitation of the working day is a preliminary condition without which all further attempts at improvements and emancipation of the working class must prove abortive", and "The Congress proposes eight hours as the legal limit of the working day."
Karl Marx saw it as of vital importance to the workers' health, writing in Das Kapital (1867): "By extending the working day, therefore, capitalist production...not only produces a deterioration of human labour power by robbing it of its normal moral and physical conditions of development and activity, but also produces the premature exhaustion and death of this labour power itself." Read more...