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Labor Unions: Home

This guide will give and overview of labor unions.

Labor Movements and Unions Picture

Members of a labor union conduct a sit-down strike in the early twentieth century (Corbis Corporation [Bellevue])

Labor Movements and Unions. (2001). In World of Sociology, Gale. Retrieved from

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What is a Labor Union?

A labor union is an association of workers for the purpose of improving their economic status and working conditions through collective bargaining with employers. Historically there have been two chief types of unions: the horizontal, or craft, union, in which all the members are skilled in a certain craft (e.g., the International Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America); and the vertical, or industrial, union, composed of workers in the same industry or industries regardless of their particular skills (e.g., the United Automobile, Aerospace, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America). A company union is an employer-controlled union having no affiliation with other labor organizations.

union, labor. (2008). In The Columbia Encyclopedia. Retrieved from

Labor Movements and Unions

Labor unions are organized collectivities of workers formed to pursue the group’s collective interests. Through collective bargaining, labor unions negotiate with management primarily in order to address problems associated with social inequality. Labor unions focus on improving working conditions and negotiating for higher compensation. Labor unions are democratic membership organizations that operate as interest groups within the political sphere.

Research on labor movements within the field of sociology usually falls into one of two broad categories: the development of labor unions or the socioeconomic and political impact of the labor movement. The study of the labor movement is also the study of class, ideology, organizations, collective action, industrialization, and stratification. No one theory of labor movements can account for all aspects of unionism and its social impacts.

Fundamental to the labor movement is the belief that the interests of workers are in conflict with the interests of employers. Through collective bargaining and the threat of strikes, workers are more able to leverage their interests with employers than if they pursued their interests individually. Currently, union membership in the United States stands at more than fifteen million, the strength of labor unions ebbs and flows. In 1945, 36 percent of all workers were unionized. Since World War II, the percentage of unionized workers has steadily fallen from this all-time high. Public perceptions about unions have also changed dramatically: unionism was equated with Communism in the 1930s and at other times has enjoyed much more favorable public opinion.

Labor Movements and Unions. (2001). In World of Sociology, Gale. Retrieved from