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Association of workers in a particular trade, industry, or plant, formed to obtain improvements in pay, benefits, and working conditions through collective action. The first fraternal and self-help associations of labourers appeared in Britain in the 18th century, and the era of modern labour unions began in Britain, Europe, and the U.S. in the 19th century. The movement met with hostility from employers and governments, and union organizers were regularly prosecuted. British unionism received its legal foundation in the Trade-Union Act of 1871. In the U.S. the same effect was achieved more slowly through a series of court decisions that whittled away at the use of injunctions and conspiracy laws against unions. The founding of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) in 1886 marked the beginning of a successful, large-scale labour movement in the U.S. The unions brought together in the AFL were craft unions, which represented workers skilled in a particular craft or trade. Only a few early labour organizers argued in favour of industrial unions, which would represent all workers, skilled or unskilled, in a single industry. The Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) was founded by unions expelled from the AFL for attempting to organize unskilled workers, and by 1941 it had assured the success of industrial unionism by organizing the steel and automotive industries (seeAFL-CIO). The use of collective bargaining to settle wages, working conditions, and disputes is standard in all noncommunist industrial countries, though union organization varies from country to country. In Britain, labour unions displayed a strong inclination to political activity that culminated in the formation of the Labour Party in 1906. In France, too, the major unions became highly politicized; the Confédération Générale du Travail (formed in 1895) was allied with the Communist Party for many years, while the Confédération Française Démocratique du Travail is more moderate politically. Japan developed a form of union organization known as enterprise unionism, which represents workers in a single plant or multiplant enterprise rather than within a craft or industry.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on labour union, visit Britannica.com.
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