labor union

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Postage stamp 1968
100 years of trade unions in Germany

A trade union is an association representing the interests of employees in order to represent their economic, social and cultural interests. Members of a trade union are known as trade unionists .

Tasks and interests

Strike at the Munich transport company, 2005

The trade unions mostly emerged from the European labor movement and have been campaigning for higher wages, better working conditions, more co-determination , for reductions in working hours and, in some cases, for further changes in society. As a negotiating partner of employers' associations , you conclude, for example, inter-company collective agreements and lead to wage wars, possibly with the help of strikes and boycotts. The trade unions try, in representation of the interests of their members, to distribute as large a part of the company profits as possible to the workforce as wages and to improve working conditions . On the other hand, the company management represents the interests of the company owners and shareholders , who want to generate the highest possible profits, as distributed dividends and new business investments. Since there is no correct or optimal distribution of profits, the distribution of profits is a question of power that is judged differently by both parties according to their interests. Trade unions, which also have to keep an eye on the positive development of the company, are therefore also in favor of new company investments , without which the company would fall behind economically. Because of this close connection with corporate interests, they were never as radical as the workers' parties in the 19th century. It is true that trade unions - often limited to specialist sectors - fight to maintain their sector, even if it is no longer economically competitive . Union representatives are very often involved in the control of the management of the supervisory boards to be financed by the companies . As the hierarchical level rises, executives are considered to belong to the company management and are therefore rarely union members.

Economic basis

Trade unions often point out that their wage demands ensure a redistribution of at least the progress in productivity and thus in particular the mass purchasing power, a prerequisite for stable (domestic) consumption , is maintained. For example, trade unions argue for their positions on the basis of demand-oriented growth models.

In particular, neoclassical economists demand a flexible working time model ; However, unions often advocate other regulations. Critics accuse trade unions of weakening the domestic location as a result. For the economists of the trade unions - traditionally more supporters of Keynesianism - the crisis on the labor market goes on. a. returns to productivity gains, which are socially unevenly distributed and the market can therefore not absorb the increased production potential ( domestic demand ). The unions argue not labor costs are too high, but wages are too low.

Opponents of this view say that especially for companies that are able to flexibly relocate to low-wage countries , high hourly wages are a deterrent. On the other hand, the conditions in low-wage countries can change quickly. In China, wages are currently rising by up to ten percent a year. The Chinese are relocating their productions to Vietnam and Myanmar.

It seems that numerous new plants for the automotive industry have been built in Eastern Europe in recent years and that jobs have been lost in Germany. By contrast, jobs were retained in countries with high productivity and lower wage costs than in Germany, such as Sweden. In industry in particular, job cuts also affect suppliers and thus other jobs. In fact, however, the average unit labor costs in Sweden have increased four times more than in Germany over the past ten years. The number of those employed in the German automotive industry has even increased in Germany.

According to the critics, Keynesian arguments for increasing demand, which are presented in a globalized context, are allegedly overlaid because without work there is no demand and because investments can move more freely in the global market than people.

There are different views on the purchasing power theory of wages. While economists who are critical of purchasing power theory believe that this theory simplifies relationships too much, proponents of this theory believe that profit theory simplifies relationships too much.

By reducing conflict costs, the trade unions in Germany contribute to a stable basis for the economy. In comparison to other industrially developed constitutional states , there are seldom strikes in Germany. As an opposing force based on the principle of separation of powers , they enable employers to focus clearly on their points of view. This is also countered by consensus costs . In constitutional states, these are primarily of a financial nature. They are thus different from the human costs of enforced consensus in authoritarian states.


In recent years the pressure on the unions has increased. Countries in Central and Eastern Europe as well as in Asia, Japan and New Zealand succeeded in building a high level of education, productivity and infrastructure. In countries like China, the pressure on unions comes from criminalizing the founders of independent unions. Furthermore, as a sign of the lack of the rule of law, there is a contradiction between legal regulations and the enforceability of rights.

The consequence of competition from areas with less rule of law and the suppression of trade unions has been, in part, the migration of jobs from Western Europe. Despite the high unemployment rate and the (controversial) thesis that an industrialized country like Germany is no longer internationally competitive, the unions are sticking to wage demands that at least compensate for inflation , but are also sometimes higher than economic growth , if particularly high in an industry Productivity gains are recorded.

In Germany, reference is made to the fewest strike days in an international comparison. Strikes are associated with high costs for all unions and, in addition to short-term production downtimes, represent a long-term location disadvantage for employers. So it is in the interests of both parties to avoid strikes.

Most unions consider strategies of lowering wages in order to compete against machines or to keep labor-intensive production to be inadequate in the long term, even if they agree to appropriate agreements in individual cases. However , there is no theoretical economic basis for such wage cuts.

Trade unions aim in their activities to create new mass demand which is supposed to stimulate the domestic economy . Germany's decoupling from the global economic upswing is partly attributed to weak domestic demand. However, some economic experts criticize the fact that the double demand effect is not taken into account by the trade unions. Demand also arises when you make it easier for companies to make investments. However, the effect of the investment is the same as that of anticipated future consumption, because investments are only made where consumption is expected later.

In the long term, future consumption is already tied up by loans for past investments. Thus, in the long term, one could withdraw to the consideration of consumption and therefore ignore the effect of the double demand. However, the last few years have shown that large companies , for example , are no longer investing more domestically but in the capital markets or in mergers with foreign companies. Even the export records of the German economy - which contradict the thesis of a lack of international competitiveness - cannot adequately support domestic demand.

With the double demand effect, however, domestic demand is more important. This is naturally high when domestic companies are doing well. Because not only private households , but also domestic companies in particular consume domestically, for example through deliveries. However, high wages or high taxes counteracted this consumption and shifted it abroad. However, this thesis is contradicted with the argument that the high wages paid to local employees would only enable them to spend the money they have earned in the region, so that in the event of wage increases there is at best a substitution of payments to regional suppliers for payments to regional employees. The situation is similar with state taxes , which are also used by the respective state to pay its expenses in its national territory.

Sociopolitical tasks of the trade unions

In the course of the post-war period, the trade unions succeeded more and more in gaining political and institutional recognition as a general social representative of the interests of the working population. In doing so, they took on extensive tasks outside of the actual coalition purpose, such as safeguarding employees' interests when concluding collective agreements. This was particularly successful in the political arena, as they found support in all parliaments from a large number of MPs who were members of them. In the Bundestag from 1965–1977 and from 1998 (meaning the year of the election) between 50% and 60% of the MPs were members of trade unions, in 2002 it was 47%, in 2005 it was less than 40% (36% in the DGB - Unions). As part of the co-determination of employees in the companies employing them, the unions, insofar as they have members there, received independent application and participation rights, as well as basic access rights to these companies. For companies that have more than 2000 employees, they have the right to directly appoint two or three of the supervisory boards to which the employees are entitled (between six and ten depending on the size of the company). Although the union representatives are also elected by the employees of the company who are entitled to vote or their delegates, the union alone has the right to make proposals. According to a 2006 investigation by the Institute for the German Economy, there were around 1,700 representatives of the unions, some of them high-ranking, on the supervisory boards of companies subject to co-determination. The trade unions sometimes participate in social and labor administration by sending members and always appear as employee representatives wherever the employers are represented by their associations. Because of their position, they also send their representatives to general institutions, such as the broadcasting councils formed by public service broadcasters .

Level of organization

An important measure of the assertiveness of a trade union or a trade union federation is the degree of organization . Union is based on community and from this community comes a "position of strength". The larger the community, the greater the position of strength. The (net) degree of organization denotes the proportion of union members employed in an industry or an organizational area in relation to all employees in this industry or area.

Some trade unions in some countries, like other large social organizations, have seen their membership decline significantly over the past few decades. However, the overall picture is not uniform. Frequently mentioned reasons for a decline are a social tendency towards individualization , shrinking company structures, reduction of jobs in industry in favor of the service sector, but also the management style of the trade unions, corruption affairs and dissatisfaction of the members with the results of the implementation of wage increases. Please refer to the following table for details. In Germany, some unions are now seeing membership increases again.

union density of western countries
country 1960 1980 2000
Sweden 70.7 78.2   81.9  
Finland 29.3 70.0   79.0  
Denmark 60.2 77.5   81.7  
Belgium 40.7 56.6   58.0  
Norway 51.6 54.1   54.3  
Ireland 43.8 55.3   38.5  
Austria 57.8 50.8   35.3  
Italy 22.2 44.4   31.0  
UK * 43.5 52.2   29.5  
Germany 34.2 33.6   21.6  
Japan* 32.2 30.3   21.5  
Netherlands 41.0 32.4   22.3  
UNITED STATES* 28.9 21.1   13.5  
France 19.2 17.1   9.0  

Degree of organization in%: active members (excluding pensioners) to dependent employees plus unemployed; Countries with *: Members to employees.

International trade union organizations

please refer:

International trade union federations



The first trade union ("Vakbond") was founded in Belgium by the typesetters in Brussels in 1842. With around 80% of the workforce, Belgium has one of the highest levels of union membership in Europe. In Belgium there are different branches of trade unions, including “free trade unions”.

In Belgium, the trade unions also act as unemployment funds.

In Belgium and thus also in the German-speaking community , the most important organizations are:

  • The union confederation with the largest number of members is the Christian-socially oriented Christian union CSC ( Confédération des syndicats chrétiens ).
  • The Liberal Union CGSLB ( Confédération Générale des Syndicats Libéraux de Belgique ) is an independent trade union confederation.
  • The General Belgian Trade Union Confederation (FGTB), also known as the “Socialist Trade Union”, is the second largest trade union federation and is socially liberal.

In addition to these three organizations, the following trade unions (Vakbonden) are registered in the Flemish part of Belgium:

  • NCK - National Confederatie van Kaderleden
  • Neutr-On - Neutral Vacbond
  • UF - Nuod-unie van Financiën


There are several predominantly political unions in France :

Confédération française démocratique du travail

The Confédération française démocratique du travail (CFDT, French Democratic Trade Union Confederation ) is the largest trade union confederation in France with around 800,000 members. The CFDT was founded in 1964 when the majority of the members of the Christian trade union confederation Confédération française des travailleurs chrétiens (CFTC) decided in favor of secularization and the renaming of the CFDT. However, about a tenth of its members subsequently left the association and re-founded the CFTC.

In its early years, the CFDT was politically close to the Parti socialiste unifié (PSU), from 1974 to the Parti socialiste (PS) under François Mitterrand . In the meantime, however, the CFDT is largely politically independent and supported, for example, the conservative Prime Minister Alain Juppé in the implementation of highly controversial welfare state reforms in 1995 .

Confédération générale du travail

The Confédération générale du travail (CGT, General Trade Union Confederation ) is a French trade union confederation that is traditionally close to the French Communist Party . For some years now, however, it has been observed that this connection is becoming increasingly weaker.

The CGT was founded in 1895 at a congress in Limoges through the merger of the Fédération des bourses du travail and the Fédération nationale des syndicats .

Today the CGT is the second largest trade union confederation in France with around 700,000 members. The geographic focus is on the Ariège department in the south-west of the country (on the border with Spain and Andorra) and the Limousin region .

Confédération générale du travail-Force ouvrière

The Confédération générale du travail-Force ouvrière (CGT-FO; analogous to General Union Workers' Power ), today usually called Force ouvrière (FO) , is one of the four major trade union confederations in France. It is traditionally part of the moderate left.

Their raison d'tre (purpose of existence) is the dominance of the PCF in the General Trade Union Confederation (CGT) after the Second World War. It was founded in 1948. It sees its goal in defending the ideals of the republic : ( freedom, equality, fraternity , separation of the state from religion ). The peculiarity of the CGT-FO lies in the lack of party-political profile.

Confédération paysanne

The Confédération paysanne (also known as the conf ' ) is a French farmers ' union . She is a member of the European Farmer Coordination and the Via Campesina .

It was founded in 1987. It emerged from the union of two smaller unions, the FNSP and the CNSTP . In 2001 it received 28% of the vote in the Chamber of Agriculture elections, making it the second largest agricultural union in France. It is in all French departments and overseas departments active.

It fights for small-scale agriculture, for environmental protection and for the quality of the products produced. Their public actions against the WTO in August 1999 and against the use of genetically modified organisms in agriculture and the scandals surrounding dioxin in chicken and BSE in the livestock farming could increase their popularity in France.

Confédération française des travailleurs chrétiens

The Confédération française des travailleurs chrétiens (CFTC, French Confederation of Christian Workers ) is a French trade union confederation with currently around 130,000 members.

The association was founded in 1919 through the merger of 321 trade unions. The program was based on the encyclical Rerum Novarum by Pope Leo XIII. on. Therefore, a revolution, as the instrument of which the communist rival association CGT saw itself, was always rejected by the CFTC in favor of reforms. In 1964, a majority of the members of the CFTC opted for secularization and renamed the Confédération française démocratique du travail (CFDT) . About ten percent of the members then left the organization and re-established the CFTC.

Politically, the CFTC is further to the right than the CFDT. It is the only trade union confederation in France whose members voted for the right-wing extremist candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen with an above-average number of votes in the 2002 French presidential election .

Coordination française nationale des travailleurs

The Coordination française nationale des travailleurs was a "trade union federation" of the right-wing extremist Front national (FN) party. It brought together several small unions (police, prison staff, transport, post office, education), employers 'organizations and tenants' associations. In 1997 she took part in labor court elections in 34 departments . However, the election of the CFNT representatives was canceled due to complaints from other unions because the organization is ideologically too dependent on the national front and is therefore not a real union.

Confédération nationale du travail

In France, three (or four) trade unions are called Confédération nationale du travail (CNT):

The Confédération Nationale du Travail-Vignoles (CNT-F) is a revolutionary syndicalist trade union federation.

The Confédération Nationale du Travail - AIT (CNT-IAA) (also called CNT-F internally of the IAA) is affiliated with the anarcho-syndicalist International Workers' Association (IAA). It is a decentralized anarchist trade union confederation and consists of local and company groups ( syndicates ) in 17 French cities. According to its own information, its membership is currently in the three-digit range.

The Confédération Nationale du Travail - Solidarité Ouvrière (CNT-SO) is a split from the French CNT-AIT, which recognizes a need to use union officials.

All "mini" unions have their origins in a group that was founded in 1946 by Spanish anarcho-syndicalists living in French exile, which still has a few members in the Confédération Nationale du Travail - Tour d'Auvergne in Paris , even if this is no action today seem to have.

Union syndicale Solidaires

The Union syndicale Solidaires is a left-wing grassroots trade union federation. It is considered a split from the moderate CFDT, which wanted to further promote self-organization. It was actually founded by ten independent trade unions as Groupe des 10 (G10) . In 1989 the federal government integrated the Sud-PTT union, a division of the CFDT in the French postal service. A few years later, other CFDT affiliates followed under the name Sud. The individual trade unions belong to the G10 Solidaires , even if the population often knows the name Sud better than Solidaires. According to some politicians, the Trotskyist Ligue communiste révolutionnaire should try to establish itself by exerting influence in the SUD. According to others, it should be the reformist Linksbund Ensemble! and others claim that it is more the anarchists of Alternative Libertaire . G10 also participated in the founding of the left-wing alternative think tank Attac .

Union national des syndicats autonomes (UNSA)

Born in 1993 from the split of the FEN, and the merger with the FAT, the FMC, the FGSOA and the FGAF.

Great Britain

Development in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries

The development of industrialization began in Great Britain as early as the end of the 18th century ; the previous agricultural state changed. The craftsmen were still organized in “ guilds ”. The then increasing industrialization was the core of the development towards “trade unions” or “labor unions”, i.e. the trade unions. An important step was the formal state recognition of the trade unions in 1872, which on the one hand represented a milestone in democratization, on the other hand also prevented the British trade unions from organizing themselves in a party in order to achieve fundamental political goals, as was the case with the much earlier one Development of workers' parties in other, more repressive states was the case.

As an early industrialized nation, Great Britain has the most significant historical development in the trade union movement. The approximately 108 historical trade unions testify to this. Even the trade unionism has its origins in the industrial centers of England. Traditionally, the trade unions worked together politically with the Labor Party , which in its early years had no individual membership. Members of the Labor Party were automatically union members, provided that the relevant unions decided to join the Labor Party. Before working with Labor, however, there was a close relationship between the Trade Unions and the Liberal Party , which for decades was the parliamentary representation of interests of the trade unions ( Lib Lab ). Labor initially found it difficult to resonate with the majority of trade unionists. Earlier founding of social democratic parties also remained unsuccessful, such as the Independent Labor Party and the Social Democratic Federation , which later joined the Labor Party. British trade unions were mainly characterized by a high degree of depoliticization and distrust of socialist ideas. There were practically no plans for revolutionary overturning among union members. A consequence of the long tradition of trade unions in Great Britain and the lack of excessive repression against workers' representatives, for example in contrast to Bismarck's Germany.

Weakening at the end of the 20th century

In Great Britain, the closed shop model prevailed until 1980 , which means that all employees in a company had to be members of the union. Even the Winter of Discontent 1978/1979, in which there were extensive strikes by the unions with the aim of significant wage increases, ended with a considerable weakening of the trade union movement. As a result, Margaret Thatcher came to government in the parliamentary elections on May 4, 1979.

In the British miners 'strike in 1984/1985 , the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) increasingly lost the support of the British population and led to the increasing radicalism of the miners' leader Arthur Scargill . After more than a year of industrial action, the Margaret Thatcher government gained the upper hand over the miners' union.

This was followed by the abolition of the closed shop (mandatory membership in trade unions for workers in numerous companies) and the ban on so-called flying pickets (pickets that do not belong to the company on strike). As a result, some of the technical innovations previously opposed by the trade unions were caught up in the economy. For example, at the end of the 1980s, British newspapers were able to switch from lead type to photo typesetting, which had long been used in other countries, something that the unions had always prevented until then.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) fell from 253,000 members in 1979 to less than 5,000 in 2000. The Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) had 2,086,000 members in 1979 and just came in in 2000 to 858,000 members.

Trade union confederations in Great Britain

Today's unions in the UK

The following should be emphasized because of their size or importance:

  • National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). It emerged in 1945 from a reorganization of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain (MFGB). The individual miners' unions organized in the federation were the largest and most powerful unions in Britain in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and had a significant influence on the union movement in the country. Among other things, they represented the goal of running their own unioncandidates for general election, and in 1874 they won the first seats in the lower house for members of the working class . The number of NUM members decreased from approx. 253,000 members in 1979 to less than 5,000 members in 2000.
  • The Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) was the largest union in Great Britain in 1979 with 2,086,000 members. Through numerous reforms, in particular the conservative government under Margaret Thatcher and its economic policy , it has decreased to 858,000 members in 2000.
  • General workers' union (GMB) is a general union (general union) with 600,000 members. GMB is organized in 34 of the 50 largest companies.
  • UNISON - the Public Service Union had 1.3 million members + 155,000 members in 2005.
  • Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) has 325,000 members.
  • Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW) is one of the largest trade unions with over 345,000 members.
  • National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) is the transport industry union with 75,000 members.


In 1908, the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union (ITGWU) was founded in Ireland as an Irish trade union union by James Larkin . Initially, the ITGWU drew its membership mainly from the Liverpool- based National Union of Dock Laborers , from which Larkin had been expelled in 1908. Later the union comprised members of different branches of industry.

The ITGWU was the linchpin during the Dublin Lockout in 1913 - a month-long general strike that had a lasting impact on the ITGWU and the labor movement. After the lockout (failed for the ITGWU) , Larkin immigrated to America in 1914, and William X. O'Brien became the new leader and later served as general secretary for many years.

Larkin returned to Ireland in 1923 and met with members of the Trade Union to end the Irish Civil War . Despite his best efforts, Larkin found himself at odds with William O'Brien, who in his absence had become the leading figure of the ITGWU, the Irish Labor Party and the Trade Union Congress . The bitter argument between the two would last for over twenty years.

In 1924, Larkin's brother Peter founded a new union, the Workers' Union of Ireland (WUI), to which many ITGWU members moved from Dublin . But despite the decline in membership, the ITGWU remained the dominant force among the trade union federations, especially outside the capital, Dublin.

In 1945 the ITGWU left the Irish Congress of Trade Unions when the Congress accepted membership of the WUI and established the rival Congress of Irish Unions .

In 1990 the ITGWU finally merged with the WUI to form the new trade union, the Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU).


As in France, Italy has politically oriented unions:

Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro

The Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro (CGIL) is a national trade union confederation in Italy. It was founded in June 1944 through the unification of socialists, communists and Christian democrats, laid down in the so-called Treaty of Rome . It has more than 5 million members, of which around 2.3 million are active. The CGIL is a member of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions and the European Trade Union Confederation as well as the trade union advisory committee at the OECD .

Unione Sindacale Italiana

The Unione Sindacale Italiana (USI; Union of Italian Syndicalists) was the umbrella organization of Italian syndicalists, which had around 1 million members in the course of the Biennio rosso . The USI was founded in 1912. It renounced reformism and oriented itself towards the radical principles of the First International . She later joined the anarcho-syndicalist International Workers Association (IWA).

After the end of the war, the number of members in the Biennio rosso , the two “red” years 1919 and 1920, reached a high point (approx. 1,000,000). During this time she joined the International Workers Association (IWA; Associazione Internazionale dei Lavoratori , AIT; Asociación Internacional de los Trabajadores ). It was also called USI-AIT and became Mussolini's main opponent in the street battles of the Biennio rosso and Biennio nero . USI-AIT was banned by Mussolini in 1926, but continued to operate underground and in exile.

After the Second World War, the remaining members followed the call of the Federazione Anarchica Italiana, which called for participation in a unified union and merged with the Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro (CGIL). When the CGIL parted in 1950, some activists re-established the USI-AIT, but could not come close to following on from earlier successes. It was represented in some regions until the 1960s, and the syndicalist embassy kept it up until the end.

Confederazione Generale dei Sindacati Autonomi dei Lavoratori

The Confederazione Generale dei Sindacati Autonomi dei Lavoratori (CONF.SAL) is an Italian trade union federation founded in 1979. It emerged from a merger of the SNALS and UNSA, which have existed for many years. He belongs to the European trade union confederation CESI , whose member organizations are not socialist.

Confederazione Italiana Sindacati Autonomi Lavoratori

The Confederazione Italiana Sindacati Autonomi Lavoratori (CISAL) is a smaller trade union confederation in Italy. It was founded in 1957. As the only trade union federation, it shows a preference for the Forza Italia party of the former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, which is elected by a relatively large number of workers . CISAL has 1,700,000 members.

Autonomous South Tyrolean trade union federation

The Autonomous South Tyrolean Trade Union Federation (ASGB) is the trade union organization of the German and Ladin workers in South Tyrol . It was founded in 1964 by former members of the mostly Italian trade union CISL to enable workers of the German and Ladin ethnic groups to represent themselves independently. Today the ASGB is the strongest trade union organization in South Tyrol with 27,000 members (2006).

Confederazione Italiana Lavoratori Liberi

The Confederazione Italiana Lavoratori Liberi (CONF.ILL; Italian Confederation of Free Workers) is a member organization of the Confederation of European Non-Socialist Trade Union Confederations CESI. CONF.ILL is not a trade union confederation in the legal sense, but has around 200,000 members in Italy.

Unione Generale del Lavoro

The Unione Generale del Lavoro (UGL) is an insignificant Italian trade union confederation. He is close to the post-fascist party Alleanza Nazionale . The German trade unions do not cooperate with the UGL. In 1950 the UGL was founded as CISNAL and has had its current name since 1996.

Sindacato Padano

The Sindacato Padano (SINPA, meaning Northern Italian Union ) is a very small union in Northern Italy. It is close to the northern Italian liberation movement Lega Nord and has only a limited meaning. It was founded in 1996 as Sindacato Autonomo di Lavoratori Padani (Autonomous Union of Northern Italian Workers).


The first trade union (vakbond) in the Netherlands was the Algemene Nederlandse Grafische Bond , which was founded in 1866.

The following unions (Vakbonden) exist in the Netherlands:

Alternative voor Vakbond,
Bond van Telecompersoneel, the Association of Telecompersonals;
Centrale van Middelbaar en Hogere Functionarissen,
Vereniging van Hoofdambtenaren bij het Ministerie van Financiën,
Christelijk Nationaal Vakverbond, the national Christian trade union confederation;
Federatie Nederlandse Vak Moving,
Landelijk Belangen Vereniging,
Landelijke Student Vakbond,
Vakcentrale voor middengroepen en hoger personeel, union headquarters for senior and senior employees;
Vakbond voor de verpleging en verzorging, Food and Supply Union;
Reformatory Maatschappelijke Unie,
Vacbond voor de wetenschap, vakorganisatie voor personeel van universiteiten, onderzoekinstellingen en universitair medische centra,
Vereniging voor Hoger KLM Personeel, a categorical union for KLM airline management and specialists.
Vakmobiling in Vervoer, Logistiek en Dienstverlening, the union for service providers;
Vakbond voor Rijdend Personeel,
Vereniging van Nederlandse Verkeersvliegers, the association of commercial pilots;
Marechaussee vereniging,
Vacbond voor defensiepersoneel.


Austrian Federation of Trade Unions

The Austrian Federation of Trade Unions is a non-partisan interest group for employees founded in 1945 . Traditionally, however, it is dominated by the Social Democrats . It is constituted as an association and is divided internally into seven (as of 2011) sub-unions. The head office is in Vienna (Laurenzerberg). Since 2009/2010, however, the ÖGB has been in the same house with the trade unions PRO-GE, GBH, vida, GPF, GdG-KMSfB and the Association of Austrian Trade Union Education (VÖGB), the ÖGB-Verlag and the travel company Sotour Austria . It is located on Handelskai in the 2nd district of Vienna (Johann-Böhm-Platz 1, 1020 Vienna).

Trade unions in Austria

The seven sub-unions are:

Furthermore, the unions GBH, KMSfB, GPF and vida work together as infra - the alliance of the infrastructure unions .


The trade union movement was an integral part of the labor movement in Sweden . The first trade union clubs were formed in the 1870s based on the British and German models. The breakthrough came as a result of the great wave of strikes in Norrland around 1880. These strikes, which had been put down by the military, indicated the need for a unified organization. In the following years a number of trade unions came into being, which in 1898 merged in an umbrella organization, the state organization LO .

The positive development was interrupted by the general strike of 1909 because it collapsed after a few weeks. Many members left the national organization and joined a newly founded syndicalist movement based on the French model, Sveriges Arbetares Centralorganisation (SAC). At first the competition between these two unions was fierce, but the syndicalist union quickly lost its importance after the First World War .

The national organization established close ties with the political branch of the labor movement, the Social Democratic Workers' Party (SAP), at an early stage . With the strengthening of SAP, LO also got a stronger position in enforcing union issues.

Unions and employers alike opposed attempts by the state to regulate the labor market through legislation. The historically significant Saltsjöbaden Agreement was concluded in 1938 : LO and the employers' organization Svenska Arbetsgivareföreningen (SAF) laid down framework conditions for the social partnership that remained valid until the 1960s. The contracting parties agreed on a negotiation order and established rules for the use of combat measures.

The first white-collar unions came into being in the inter-war period. The social and professional situation of the white-collar workers was better than that of the blue-collar workers and they were closer to the employers. These employee unions did not join the SAP-related umbrella organization LO, but formed their own umbrella organization in 1944, Tjänstemännens Centralorganisation (TCO). In 1947 the last of the three umbrella organizations, the academics union SACO, was established .

In the 1960s and 1970s the unions grew strongly. The level of organization was 85% in the mid-1980s. After that, the number of members stagnated, but the current level of organization of 68% (2019) is one of the highest in all industrialized countries . The proportion of women in Scandinavian trade unions is equal to the proportion of men and is therefore significantly higher than in the rest of Europe.

The changed conditions on the labor market have led to increased cooperation between trade union associations since the 1990s.

Trade unions in Sweden

  • Country organizations (LO): umbrella organization for 16 individual trade unions (1.86 million workers in 2005)
  • Tjänstemännens Centralorganisation (TCO): umbrella organization for 17 individual trade unions (1.27 million employees in 2005)
  • Sveriges Akademikers Centralorganisation (SACO): umbrella organization for 26 individual trade unions (569,000 academics 2005)
  • Sveriges Arbetares Centralorganisation (SAC): syndicalist union (about 8,000 members)


In Switzerland today, one in four employees is organized in a trade union or a union-like association. In a Western European comparison, this is rather little.

Trade union federations in Switzerland

The Swiss Federation of Trade Unions (SGB) is the largest workers' organization in Switzerland. Sixteen individual trade unions are united in it, which represent a total of around 380,000 members. Right from the start, the Swiss trade unions tried to create their own self-help and social institutions: first of all, unemployment and health insurance funds , old age and benefit funds , and later training, holiday and social institutions. The trade unions have always given their members legal protection .

In 2002, a new employee umbrella organization was founded in Bern under the name Travail.Suisse . The originators of this establishment were the associations and unions that were previously affiliated to the Christian National Trade Union Confederation of Switzerland (CNG) and the Association of Swiss Employees' Associations (VSA). These associations represent around 170,000 members.

Individual trade unions in Switzerland

With the merger of GBI, SMUV, VHTL, unia and actions to form Unia , the largest trade union in Switzerland was created in autumn 2004 with around 200,000 members and almost 100 secretariats. The employment conditions of around one million people are regulated in collective labor contracts negotiated by Unia.


There are various trade union confederations in Spain . The largest are the Comisiones Obreras , the Confederación General del Trabajo and the Union Sindical Obrera . Regional organizations are the Confederación Intersindical Galego in Galicia , the Basque democratic ELA-STV and the Basque nationalist Langile Abertzalen Batzordeak . Furthermore, the anarcho-syndicalist union Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) is an influential union, v. a. in the Catalan area around Barcelona.

United States

Trade union development in the 19th century

In the USA , unlike the European unions, the trade unions did not come into being out of class struggle motives, but were predominantly a protective community against immigrants and the unorganized. The US unions of the late 19th century saw themselves as an alternative to the company cartels, so to speak, as “wage cartels”, which in the capitalist system assumed the role of providers of labor and wanted to sell it as dearly as possible in the interests of their members. In the early days, employers were often blackmailed and forced to hire only union members. Conversely, membership in a US union was usually tied to high entry fees or part of the salary, as well as entrance exams.

The National Labor Union (NLU) was founded as the first US union on August 20, 1866 in Baltimore . Their most important goal was the introduction of the eight-hour day . Black or Chinese were initially not accepted as members of this trade union and founded their own small unions. In its policy conference in 1869, the NLU declared that it would represent workers' rights regardless of gender and skin color, and from now on it opened up to women and blacks as well. However, the NLU increasingly limited itself to work in parliament (introducing legislative initiatives); its importance diminished and it disbanded in 1873.

The Knights of Labor were founded as early as 1869 and soon became the leading union in the United States. It had up to 700,000 members in the 19th century. In addition to increasing wages, their goals were the abolition of child labor and the introduction of the eight-hour day. They called for "a proper share of the wealth they create, [...] more free time, and generally more benefits of society", in short a fairer distribution of wealth , more free time and a more social society. Known from the ranks of this union was Thomas Mooney (1882-1942), who was a labor activist in San Francisco and who is said to have been involved in the bomb attack on Preparedness Day in 1916. A supporter of the union demands from 1870 was Victoria Woodhull , who at times belonged to the American branch of the First International .

In 1886, Samuel Gompers founded the American Federation of Labor (AFL, today AFL-CIO ) as a reorganization of the predecessor organization Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions in Columbus ( Ohio ), which should soon have 1.4 million members across the US. It was one of the first skilled workers' union confederations in the United States. Gompers was President of the AFL until his death in 1924.

Union federations in the United States

In 1886, many individual unions joined together to form the umbrella organization AFL, which represented around half of American workers. Outwardly, the association relied on blocking off the unskilled workers, which was growing because of the assembly line production . The AFL focused on the direct, current demands of workers and did not question the rights of the owners of the means of production under capitalism. It supported individual politicians who represented the interests of the workers, but not individual parties. It stood in contrast to the more radical Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), who saw themselves as a class struggle organization and organized all workers regardless of their professional status.

In 1938 ten unions split off from the AFL and founded the new umbrella organization CIO , which specifically opened up to unskilled workers. Both associations were hostile to each other in the decades that followed. After World War II, the unions came under pressure from the Republican majority in Congress and President Eisenhower . In 1955 it reunited with the CIO and exists today as the AFL-CIO. The membership is decreasing continuously. In 1955, 34% of workers in the United States were organized in the new umbrella organization. In 2005 it was 12%. For 2008, the union density in the private sector is only given as 7.5%.

In 2005, numerous unions resigned (including the service union SEIU, the largest single union) and formed under the new umbrella organization Change to Win .

Since the late 20th century, the US trade unions have been changing more and more programmatically to represent all workers holistically. Their influence has steadily declined since 1980.

Individual trade unions in the USA

United Steelworkers

The United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union (USW) is the largest industrial union in North America with over 1.2 million active and former members . She represents workers in the United States and Canada . Headquarters of the union's Pittsburgh ( Pennsylvania ).

The USW was founded as USWA on May 22, 1942 by members of the Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel, and Tin Workers and the Steel Workers Organizing Committee . Previously, there had been frequent, sometimes violent, clashes between striking workers and strike breakers or the police. The union's first president was co-founder Philip Murray.

American Railway Union

The American Railway Union (ARU) was the largest union in America in the 1890s and the first industrial union in the United States. It was founded on June 20, 1893 by railroad workers in Chicago , Illinois , under the leadership of Eugene V. Debs (a locomotive heater). Unlike the other unions, the ARU embodied in its policy a representation of all railway employees, regardless of whether they were employed as craftsmen or in the service of customers at a railway company. Within a year, the ARU had hundreds of local chapters and over 140,000 members across the country.

In 1893 the Great Northern Railway cut wages for its employees. By April, the ARU decided to go on strike and paralyzed the railroad for 18 days. In doing so, it forced society to withdraw the wage cuts among its workers. This was the union's first and only victory.

Similarly, the Pullman Palace Car Company cut its wages five times - by 30 to 70 percent - between September 1893 and March 1894. Many Pullman workers had now joined the railroad workers' union. An ARU meeting in solidarity to join the strikers and boycotted Pullman wagons . The boycott was a great success. In response to this, the Pullman management issued the order to attach Pullman wagons to the mail trains in order to obtain support for their position on the postal service and to interest the federal government.

With the help of the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, which had ruled that it was illegal for company mergers to restrict trade or trade, a court prohibition was obtained on July 2nd. It forbade the ", persuasion, force or violence to prevent railway employees or to prevent them to perform forcing or inducing threats intimidate their duties." ARU leadership, by the next day, US President ordered Grover Cleveland 20000 man federal troops , the Smash the strike and keep the train running. By July 7th, Debs and seven other ARU officials were arrested, charged, and convicted of " conspiracy to disrupt the postal service". The strike was finally crushed. The ARU eventually disbanded. The Pullman Company reopened without the sacked union leaders.

International Brotherhood of Teamsters

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), or Teamsters for short , is the transport workers' union and thus the largest single union in the USA and has also been active in Canada as Teamsters Canada since 1992 .

The IBT, formerly also known as the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and Helpers of America , has around 1.4 million contributing members and 400,000 retirees (as of 2004), making it one of the largest individual unions in the world.

Initially the Teamsters were just a union for truck drivers, but expanded to become a general transport workers union and now extend into the food industry. You are therefore also the responsible union at the logistics giant UPS . The union is now part of the Change to win trade union group , after leaving the former AFL-CIO umbrella organization in 2005 with a number of other unions.

Writers Guild of America

The Writers Guild of America (WGA) is the collective union of authors in the US film and television industry. It is divided into a western and an eastern area. As of 2003, it had over 11,000 members nationwide. The union also provides health and pension benefits for its members. It also controls compliance with copyright law.

National Hockey League Players Association

The National Hockey League Players' Association (NHLPA) is a union of professional ice hockey players for the NHL in North America. The NHLPA players' association is headquartered in Toronto . It was founded in June 1967 by the players from the Original Six ice hockey clubs . The Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) is the collective agreement between the NHL (clubs) and the NHLPA players' union.

Unions in cinematography

See also


  • Volume 1: France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece (= studies on politics . Volume 7). ISBN 3-506-79307-1 .
  • Volume 2: Great Britain, Netherlands, Austria, Sweden, Denmark (= studies on politics . Vol. 8). ISBN 3-506-79308-X .

Web links

Wiktionary: union  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Unions  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Sources of the table: Ebbinghaus p. 196, In: Schroeder-Weßels: The trade unions in politics and society in the Federal Republic of Germany. 2003; Anke Seifert, Claudia Breisa: German trade unions through the ages . Grin Verlag for academic texts, 2005.
  2. Employment Office of the German-speaking Community ( Memento from September 17, 2012 in the Internet Archive )
  3. ^ Michel Wieviorka: Le Front national. Entre extremisme, populisme et démocratie. Éditions de la Maison des sciences de l'homme, Paris 2013, p. 44.
  4. Dominique Andolfatto, Thierry Chofat: Le Front national et les syndicats. Une stratégie d'entrisme? In: Sylvain Crépon et al .: Les faux-semblants du Front national. Sociologie d'un parti politique. Les Presses Sciences Po, Paris 2015.
  5. cf. Stefan Berger: Unequal Sisters. The British Labor Party and German Social Democracy in comparison 1900–1931. Bonn 1997, p. 43 f.
  6. ^ TUC History Online
  7. a b Part 5: 1980–2000 , at, accessed on December 29, 2009 (English).
  8. ↑ The GPA union elects chairwoman Barbara Teiber and changes its name. Retrieved December 4, 2020 .
  9. Anders Kjellberg (2020) Kollektivavtalens Tackningsgrad including organizational degrees hos arbetsgivarförbund och fackförbund , Department of Sociology, Lund University. Studies in Social Policy, Industrial Relations, Working Life and Mobility. Research Reports 2020: 1, Appendix 3 (in English) Table A
  10. Anders Kjellberg and Christian Lyhne Ibsen (2016) "Attacks on union organizing: Reversible and irreversible changes to the Ghent-systems in Sweden and Denmark" , in Trine Pernille Larsen and Anna Ilsøe (eds.) (2016) Den Danske Model set udefra - Comparative perspectives på dansk arbejdsmarkedsregulering , Copenhagen: Jurist- og Økonomforbundets Forlag
  11. Olwen H. Hufton, Giōta Kravaritou-Manitakē, Yota Kravaritou: Gender and the Use of Time: Gender Et Emploi Du Temps. Kluwer Law International, 1999, ISBN 90-411-9660-9 . P. 236. (English-language chapter).
  12. ^ Homepage of the Swedish trade unions