Portal:Organized Labour

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Introduction

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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 organisation, 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 and working conditions 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.

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Massachusetts militiamen with fixed bayonets surround a group of peaceful strikers

The Lawrence textile strike, also known as the Bread and Roses strike, was a strike of immigrant workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts, in 1912 led by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Prompted by a two-hour pay cut corresponding to a new law shortening the workweek for women, the strike spread rapidly through the town, growing to more than twenty thousand workers and involving nearly every mill in Lawrence. Starting January 1, 1912, the Massachusetts government started to enforce a law that allowed women to work a maximum of 54 hours, rather than 56 hours. Ten days later, they found out that pay had been reduced along with the cut in hours.

The strike united workers from more than 40 different nationalities. Carried on throughout a brutally cold winter, the strike lasted more than two months, from January to March, defying the assumptions of conservative trade unions within the American Federation of Labor (AFL) that immigrant, largely female and ethnically divided workers could not be organized. In late January, when a striker, Anna LoPizzo, was killed by police during a protest, IWW organizers Joseph Ettor and Arturo Giovannitti were framed and arrested on charges of being accessories to the murder.

IWW leaders Bill Haywood and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn came to Lawrence to run the strike. Together they masterminded its signature move, sending hundreds of the strikers' hungry children to sympathetic families in New York, New Jersey, and Vermont. The move drew widespread sympathy, especially after police stopped a further exodus, leading to violence at the Lawrence train station. Congressional hearings followed, resulting in exposure of shocking conditions in the Lawrence mills and calls for investigation of the "wool trust." Mill owners soon decided to settle the strike, giving workers in Lawrence and throughout New England raises of up to 20 percent. Within a year, however, the IWW had largely collapsed in Lawrence. Read more...

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Left pointing double angle quotation mark sh3.svg The history of the labor movements needs to be taught in every school in this land. America is a living testimonial to what free men and women, organized in free democratic trade unions can do to make a better life. … We ought to be proud of it!" Right pointing double angle quotation mark sh3.svg — Hubert Humphrey

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