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The History of Trade Unions Where did all start?


If you have never worked in union environment, you might not be aware of the history of

union and where it all began. Let me share with you a bit of history about union and some interesting facts about unions in other countries.


Before unions formed, there were no regulations or laws on employment. Employers took advantage of workers by requiring them to work extremely long hours, discriminate against them, use force and violence, women and children would work in poor conditions in factories, mines, railroads, warehouses, etc. and often the work conditions would be very dangerous, and the pay was incredibly minimal. Hence, unhappy workers started to join together and formed trade unions.


Trade unions, labor unions or simply referred to now as unions, originated in Great Britain during the Industrial Revolution in the eighteenth century. Unions were composed of individual workers, professionals, past workers, students, apprentices and the unemployed. The intent of unions was to maintain or improve the work conditions such as better pay and benefits, improving work conditions, improving safety conditions, basically to protect

employees’ rights and stop exploitation.


In the US trade unions played an important role and the earliest recorded strike was in New York in 1768 when journeymen tailors protested against wage reductions. The most famous union in US history is the American Federation of Labor also known as AFL, which was founded by Samuel Gompers in 1886 and had approximately 1.4 million members. The AFL was the first union who successfully negotiated wage increases and enhanced work safety conditions for all its members.


In the 1970s, unions in the US began to weaken as the US economy grew, which set off the deregulation of many unions due to industrial restructuring and nonunion competition started to surge. Plants began to close, new presidents were elected with different views and by the 1980s, the “power of an anti-union administration” started and union member fell by 5 million by 1985. And since then, unions in the US have been declining. Interestingly, only in the public sector did the unions hold their own.

Today, union density, which is the percentage of workers belonging to a trade union, is the highest in the Nordic countries such as Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland, ranging between 60 to 90%. Whereas in the United States, the union density is at 10%, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

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