Contemporary Unionism in the United States

By Clyde E. Dankert | Go to book overview

1
The General Nature of American Trade Unionism

TRADE UNIONS differ greatly in structure, in principles, and in policies. Yet they all have certain characteristics in common. These characteristics are basic in nature and, taken together, they clearly mark off unions from other social organizations such as political parties, cooperative societies, athletic associations, educational institutions, bridge clubs, and bowling leagues. It is true, of course, that the members of trade unions often are interested in the activities such organizations promote. In fact, the unions themselves frequently sponsor the same, or similar, activities and spend a great deal of money promoting them. But trade unions, particularly American trade unions, are not primarily interested in politics, cooperation, or athletics; in education, bridge, or bowling. Their chief concern is with other matters.

If unions differ from the organizations just mentioned, wherein do they differ? Or, to state the question in a narrower and more elemental form, what is a trade union? (The term "trade union" is used broadly here and throughout the book to cover all types of unions: craft, industrial, etc.) This may appear to be a very simple, and also a very academic, question to ask. But it is neither. To define a union adequately is not an easy task. Most unionists, to say nothing of non-unionists, would probably fail in the undertaking. It will not be amiss, therefore, if we begin our discussion of unionism in this country by giving some attention to the matter of definition. The full meaning of the definition, however, will not be apparent until we reach the end of the book.


What Is a Trade Union?

A Trade Union is a continuing organization of employees established for the purpose of protecting or improving, through collective action, the economic and social status of its members.1 This is a comprehensive, general definition.

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1
In their outstanding history of English trade unionism, Sidney and Beatrice Webb defined a trade union as "a continuous association of wage-earners for the purpose of maintaining or improving the conditions of their employment." See History of Trade Unionism, p. 1. London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1902. In the 1920 edition of this work the authors substituted the words "conditions of their working-lives" for "conditions

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