Politics in Minutes (2016)

Trades unions and the labour movement

Industrialization not only changed the pattern of peoples’ working lives, moving them from agricultural jobs or traditional crafts to factories and mills in the cities, but it also changed who they worked for and their job security. In the 19th century, workers in newly industrialized countries began to form trade unions (also known as labour unions) – associations with the aim of maintaining or improving the conditions of their employment, filling a gap left by the old craftsmens’ guilds.

While this was generally a practical rather than a political movement, dealing with negotiation of wages and conditions of employment and so on, it, perhaps inevitably, evolved a strong socialist undercurrent. This, after all, was a prime example of the workers of the world uniting and acting collectively to ensure the value of their labour-power was reflected in their pay packets. More than this, trades unions helped to instil a sense of class consciousness and, because of this, the movement became a significant force for socialism.

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