Trade Unions The History and Evolution of Trade Unions A trade union is a continuos association of wage-earners for the purpose of maintaining or improving the conditions of their employment. 1 This means that it is a group of workers who unite to gain more power and leverage in bargaining. This bargaining can include many things from wages to working conditions, promotions or fringe benefits. Unions usually elect a leader to speak to management on their behalf. The idea of unions came about in the late 1700 s. These early unions were called friendly societies or social societies. They were very different than the unions we have today. They focused on friendship and trust between the workers and the management. The groups of workers and managers alike often met to drink, talk, or play card games. One of the first recorded forms of a union was a group called the Friendly Society of Cotton Spinners, who in 1785 instructed its members not to work below the usual prices. 2 As the gap between the social classes of the workers and the management widened, their friendly relationship also deteriorated rapidly. Now, unions in the form we see them today began to develop. Management no longer associated with its workers. The unions changed very quickly to fit the needs of workers during the booming industrial revolution. Today s trade unions fight for most of the same causes that they have been fighting for since the beginning. Although some unions have been criticized most are reasonable. Trade unions have been, and will continue to be a key part of our American capitalist system. Smelser,Neil. Social Change in the Industrial Revolution. London: Routledge & Kegan paul, 1959. Smith,Page. The Rise of Industrial America. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1984. 1Smelser, Social Change in the Industrial Revolution, p. 313. 2Ibid., p. 315. By Andrew Martin Dierks

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