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Trade Unionism In History: How Did The First Political Organization Of Workers In Large Corporations Come About

Trade unions are associations of workers whose main function is to defend their interests, professional rights, and citizenship. These unions currently play a key role in our society, since they face directly with serious threats against workers. In modern societies, organization according to common interests is increasingly a necessity. Thus, we already know their role in society but when and how did these unions come about?


Historical Context

With the consolidation of capitalism in the 18th century in Europe, the class struggle has reached its fullness. In this way, workers' resistance to poor working conditions became extremely necessary. The formation of groups of workers fighting for former rights started to be stronger in urban conglomerates, today we know these groups as trade unionism.

The Industrial Revolution brought several changes to society, mainly in the way of production in factories. In this context, the division of society between dominant and subordinate classes has intensified. Two great extremes have emerged, the bourgeoisie owns the means of production, and the proletariat, who sells its labor power. The bad conditions in the industries conceived by the bourgeoisie to the proletariat, such as long working hours, very low wages, and abuse of workers, made these workers start to organize themselves to confront the owners of large companies and demand labor improvements.

Due to this situation, the first unions started to appear in England (a pioneer in the industrial revolution). However, they were clandestine, and their actions had difficulties to be executed because of that. Even so, the workers managed to organize themselves through strikes, which did not please the owners of the factories, causing in 1799 the English Parliament to prohibit the unions. 

The workers didn’t stop fighting for their rights, and because of that lots of social movements started to appear, such as Luddism (1811), organized attacks on factories to destroy machines, and Chartism (1837), radical and reformist workers' movement that called for greater political freedoms, secret universal suffrage, the right of workers to participate in Parliament, the reduction of working hours and limitation of political mandates. The People's Charter was written in 1838 to consolidate these rights but has not been ratified by the English Parliament.

It’s important to know that all these movements were responded to by the government with repression, but the people did not stop fighting until they achieved their rights. Therefore, the labor struggle was consolidating, which brought losses to the bourgeoisie. Then, in 1824, the English Parliament allowed the free association of workers, that is, the unions were made official.


Importance of the trade unionism

The trade unions negotiate on behalf of the workers, unifying the struggle in the search for greater rights and wages. Through the unions, workers can mobilize to charge big businessmen for improvements in their work. An employee is not able to confront these inequalities alone, does not hold the same power as the boss, but a group united for a cause can make a revolution.

Trade unionism can concrete improvements for everyone and guarantee decent working conditions, through these associations the human rights of workers are guaranteed. All union action is a contribution by workers not only to the defense of their own interests but also to the development of society itself. The history of labor law is the history of the class struggle and unions are essential to this.



The article above was edited by Larissa Mariano.

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Isadora Costa

Casper Libero '24

Journalism student passionate about any form of art. Telling stories fascinates and that's what I'm trying to do here.
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