What Are the Main Functions of a Trade Union?

Roger Blackwell/CC-BY-2.0

The primary functions of a trade union are to protect, defend and support the common interests of members by acting as a mediator between workers and the organizations for whom they work. The first trade union in the United States was organized in 1794 in Philadelphia by a group of shoemakers. The purpose was to establish a common wage system in order to prevent employers and unskilled workers from undercutting members.

The formation of unions was also a direct result of the ideals of fairness and equality on which the United States was founded. Trade unions became key players in the American labor economy during the industrial revolution of the late 19th and early 20th century as the result of factory owners taking advantage of the influx of immigrants by forcing them to work long hours for very little pay. Factories were dimly lit, conditions were very poor, and injuries and death were prevalent. Gangs rose up in an attempt to suppress unions, but trade unions eventually led to the formation of such government checks and balance bureaucracies as the United States Food and Drug Administration. Today, more than 10 percent of Americans still belong to some type of trade union. Through the payment of dues, unions are able to negotiate and take legal action when necessary.