Trades Union, an association of workmen for concerted action upon questions of wages, hours of labor, and other conditions of employment, and for mutual relief. Apart from the mediaeval craft guilds, which included employers (see Guild), combinations of workmen to obtain increased wages have occasionally appeared for several centuries; but until a comparatively recent date they were everywhere the object of severe legal penalties. Toward the close of the last century the formation of workmen's societies received a new impulse from the introduction of machinery, which, by concentrating the leading industries in large establishments, gradually reduced many small masters to the position of laborers, and vastly increased the difficulty of • rising from the working to the employing class. In England unions had been formed among the wool combers, cotton spinners, weavers, calico printers, scissors grinders, and men of other trades, before the beginning of this century. New laws:


Date of organization.

Year of report.

No. of branches.

No. of members.

Year's income.

Year's expenditures.

Funds in hand.

Amalgamated society of engineers ..................








Friendly society of operative stone masons .......................





United operative masons of Scotland..................








Friendly society of iron founders of England, Ireland, and Wales








Boiler makers and iron ship builders of Great Britain and Ireland






. ....


Amalgamated society of carpenters and joiners .................








Amalgamated society of tailors ...........................








Amalgamated society of railway servants .....................




■ ••>■•



Amalgamated association of iron and steel workers ................






Durham miners' association .............................






West Yorkshire miners1 association...........................








Northumberland miners' mutual confident association ................




■ < * ■ ■ *


National agricultural laborers' union..........................








Amalgamated association of operative cotton spinners..........








The following societies comprised in 1875 a membership of 258,550 :

Miners' national union...........................


South Yorkshire miners1 association..............


East Lancashire power-loom weavers.............


Federal union of agricultural laborers..............


Kent and Sussex agricultural laborers' union......


General union of carpenters and joiners...........


Operative bricklayers1 accident and burial society..


United Kingdom society of coach builders........



The 23 societies named above comprise all having not less than 7,000 members which were represented in the national trades union congress at Liverpool in January, 1875, or in that held in Glasgow in October of the same year, besides a few that were not represented in either. Their aggregate membership is 570,-700, or nearly half of the total estimated membership of the trades unions of the kingdom. - Trade societies comprise those organized for trade purposes alone, such as mutual support in strikes, and those which are also mutual benefit associations, the latter class now comprising nearly all of the stronger organizations, in which the expenditures for benefits are usually much greater than those incurred for strikes. But on the other hand, the amalgamated association of miners paid £80,000 within one year (1874-'5) to assist branches on strike in South Staffordshire. By the periodiprohibiting such combinations were enacted in 1799 and 1800, but were evaded in various ways; and in 1824 a committee of the house of commons reported that these laws had only produced irritation, distrust, and violence. They were repealed, and an act was passed to protect combinations of workmen or employers from prosecution for conspiracy under the common law.

Later acts were still more favorable to the unions, providing for their registration and enabling them to hold real estate. At the beginning of 1876 the number of members enrolled in the trades unions of the United Kingdom was estimated at 1,200,000, of which number more than one fourth is comprised in the 14 societies named in the following table: cal publication of reports showing the state of trade in various towns and districts, some of the unions render valuable service; and another useful device is that of keeping in each of the larger towns a "vacant book,'1 in which the names of men out of employment and employers in want of men are registered. The qualifications for membership generally include good health, sound physique, ability as a workman, steady habits, and good moral character; and (except in societies of unskilled laborers) the candidate must have served a regular apprenticeship to his trade. The minimum limit of age for admission to full membership is usually 21 years; the maximum varies from 35 to 50 years. A prime object of these organizations is to obtain better wages, shorter time, or more agreeable conditions of employment.

They discountenance long engagements at a preestablished rate of wages, oppose the practice of working beyond the customary hours, object to working in the same establishment with non-unionists, and usually seek to establish in each town or district a minimum rate of wages. In the skilled trades they insist upon apprenticeship, and seek to regulate the proportion between apprentices and workmen, defending their action on the ground that it is the workman, and not the employer, who instructs the apprentice. In the various trades connected with building and engineering the members of the unions generally refuse to work under piece masters or sub-contractors. The objection to piece work is, that it is desired by the employers only for the purpose of exciting among the men a spirit of rivalry, which in their opinion would result in a reduction of wages or an increase in the hours of labor. In the mining trade, when the output of coal has been in excess of the demand, they have sometimes insisted on diminishing production, in order that the price might not fall so low as to entail a reduction of wages.

Some unions have endeavored to fix a limit to the amount of work which each man might do. - One of the best results of free association among the workmen of the United Kingdom is the mental culture which it has promoted. The members of trades unions generally believe that wages have been considerably raised through their agency, and they usually assume that this advantage to the workmen has been gained by cutting down the profits of the employers. Some employers deny that the unions have affected wages at all, while others complain that they have affected them to an injurious degree. Among political economists, some strenuously maintain that wages can only be determined by the law of supply and demand; others admit that combination may have raised the rate of wages in particular trades, but contend that it has thereby raised the price of the products of those trades in the same proportion, and thus increased the cost of living to all classes, including large masses of workmen, who, without receiving any increase in their own wages, are compelled as purchasers of commodities to contribute to the increase received by their more fortunate fellows.

On the other hand, Mr. W..T. Thornton, in his well known work on labor published in 1869, argues that the efforts of the trades unions have raised the wages of laborers in general, and estimates the addition thus made to the aggregate earnings of the working men of the United Kingdom at £9,000,000 per annum. - A trades union congress, composed of delegates from different unions and local federations, has been held annually since 1869. Thus far these congresses have confined their attention to objects which had a direct relation to the interests of the working classes, such as providing for the proper ventilation of mines, and reducing the hours of labor for women and children. Toward the adoption of such measures they have materially contributed, and the passage of the labor laws of 1875 is mainly attributable to the exertions of their committee. A federation for defensive purposes, called the United Kingdom alliance of organized trades, has existed for several years, but does not embrace any of the larger unions.

There is also a workman's international league (distinct from the revolutionary international workingmen's association), having for its object concert of action between English and foreign workmen in certain trades wherein the keenness of international competition tends to depress wages. - A national federation of associated employers of labor was formed in August, 1873. The scope of its operations was limited to parliamentary legislation, the collection and distribution of information upon industrial questions, and the endeavor to secure unity of action among employers. The masters in the principal trades have long had associations for the specific purpose of resisting those of the men. In case of a strike against one of their members, they assist him in obtaining other workmen, supply him with funds or credit, undertake or guarantee his contracts, and in other ways help him to dispense with his workmen until they accept his terms. A "lockout"-is a retaliatory measure on the part of employers, to deprive workmen on strike of assistance from others by throwing the latter out of employment. The occurrence of strikes and lockouts has often been attended with riotous demonstrations and destruction of life and property.

The principal strikes since the repeal of the combination laws were as follows:

*Of these, 7 were in Australia, 3 in New Zealand, 6 in Canada, 31 in the United States, and 6 in other countries.

† Of these, 14, comprising 447 members, were in the United States, and 4 were in Canada.



No. of persons idle.

Duration of strike.

Manchester cotton spinners......



6 months.

Ashton and Staleybridge cotton spinners .................................



10 weeks.

Liverpool building trades........



6 months.

Preston cotton spinners.........



13 weeks.

Amalgamated engineers.........



8 months.

Preston cotton spinners.........



36 weeks.

London building trades..........




General lockout in the iron trade.



16 weeks.

Clyde ship - building trade





North of England iron trade.....



5 months.

Colliers of South Wales..........



12 weeks.

At the end of 1875 a strike occurred at the Erith iron works, which threatened to become general, the workmen resisting and the employers insisting upon piece work. - Members of the amalgamated society of engineers who were engaged in the unsuccessful strike of 1851 emigrate'd the same year to Australia, and established a branch at Sydney. Trades unions have since become general in Australia, and have enabled workmen not only to make their own terms with employers, but to exert a powerful influence upon legislation, especially in defeating appropriations to promote immigration of laborers. They have a trades and labor council comprising 23 societies and 3,000 members, with a permanent committee on parliamentary representation. In this colony eight hours as a rule constitute a working day, and wages vary from Is. to 2s. (24 to 48 cts. gold) an hour. Trades unions also exist to some extent in New Zealand and other British colonies. There is an association known as the "Canada Labor Union," composed of delegates from the local trades unions, the object of which is to influence legislation in the interest of the working class.

There are no trades unions in Canada of national (or rather of colonial) extent, except those which are connected with organizations in the United States. - Trades unions after the English model (Gewerkvereine) began to appear in Germany in 1868. The laws prohibiting combination had been repealed in Prussia two years before, and a law passed permitting employers and workmen (excepting agricultural laborers) to arrange terms in their own way, provided they abstained from physical compulsion, insults, and defamation. A similar law was passed by the parliament of the North German confederation in 1809. The same year Dr. Max Hirsch formed a plan to unite the working classes of Germany into one confederation under a central direction. The local branches of all the trades within certain limits elect some central branch (if in a large town) or the branches of some central place, and commit to such branch or branches the election of a general council, which exercises the chief executive power, while the legislative power is committed to an assembly of branch delegates. These local or district federations are united in a national federation, with a legislative assembly composed of their several delegates, and a central executive committee elected by the assembly.

There is also an officer known as the union attorney, who, besides being the chief business manager of the confederation, has the special task of disseminating its principles. Unlike the English trades unions, which sprang from small affiliations spontaneously formed by the working men, the system of the German Geicerkvereine originated with a member of the professional class, and existed in its completeness as an idea before the local unions had come into being. The number of members embraced in the German unions is therefore not as great as might be expected, in view of their elaborate organization. In 1869 it was stated at 30,000, comprised in 267 local societies existing in 145 towns, and representing the following trades: miners, masons and stone cutters, potters, carpenters, shipwrights, cabinet makers, shoe and harness makers, tailors, weavers, painters and lithographers, gold and silver smiths, machine builders, and metal workers. Besides these, the confederation included societies of factory operatives and other workpeople belonging to no special trade.

By 1872 the number of trades had increased from 13 to 18, and the number of branches from 267 to 350; but the membership had fallen off to the extent of nearly 10,000, which was attributed in part to the war with France, and in part to the discouragement which followed the failure of the great strike of 1869 among the miners at Waldenburg in Silesia, which had been supported by the confederation. The increase of membership in 1873 and 1874 was about 2,000. There are large numbers of German trades unions devoted to the socialistic doctrines of Lassalle, who hold aloof from the confederation organized by Hirsch, and stigmatize its leaders as "harmony apostles." The growth of trades unions among the socialist workmen is greatly checked by the action of the police, who break up large numbers of such societies every year, for interference in politics. - In France the legal position of the working class with respect to the right of combination is but indistinctly defined. In 1864 the law upon this subject was so modified as to make coalition no longer a crime, and to give to workmen the right of striking as well as that of holding public meetings. But the law of 1791, which prohibits societies composed of persons of the same trade or profession, was still in force.

As the authorities had long tolerated associations formed in contravention of the law, the workmen now organized "societies of resistance," similar to those trades unions which are organized for trade purposes alone. Many of these were afterward affiliated with the international association. (See Inter-national Association.) In 1868 the government intimated that the various trades in Paris would be permitted to organize under the direction of syndical chambers, on condition of abstaining from politics. In 1875 there were about 100 such syndicates among the employers, and about 70 among the workmen. The latter were refused the privilege of forming a central committee, while the employers' syndicates have both a central committee and a newspaper organ. - In Belgium trades unions have become prominent within a few years past, and have made several vigorous strikes at the manufacturing centres. Switzerland has flourishing trades unions, which resemble the English societies, but several related trades are usually 'represented in one organization. They embrace both trade and benefit purposes, and take part in politics. The strikes among the Swiss unions from 1868 to 1873 inclusive varied from a few days to several months. In a fair proportion of cases the objects of the workmen were attained.

In Italy trades unions have existed since about 1865, and several strikes have occurred. The strictness of the combination laws has depended a good deal on the pleasure of the tribunals charged with their execution. Coalition to raise or lower wages is made criminal only when entered into "unjustly or abusively," or " without reasonable cause." There are trades unions in other European countries, but they exercise little influence on industrial relations, and nowhere on the continent are these organizations so powerful as in the United Kingdom. While the laws of the continental countries repress combinations to raise wages, they encourage provident and mutual aid societies. - Though the working men of the United States have enjoyed unrestricted liberty of combination, the trades unions of this country do not compare with those of the United Kingdom in membership, resources, or discipline, nor in the extent to which they have combined beneficial objects with trade purposes. The following table comprises the principal unions with a national organization; all of these, except the miners' union,, have branches in Canada:

Teades Union


Date of organization.

No. of branches.

No. of embers.

International typographical union...




Machinists' and blacksmiths1 international union .........................



Iron moulders' union of North America.........................




Brotherhood of locomotive engineers




Journeymen tailors' national trades union ........................................




Coopers' international union........



Cigar makers' international union..



Miners' national union .....




United sons of Vulcan



The miners' union comprises organizations which have existed for years in different states, of which the strongest was that of the anthracite miners of Pennsylvania. The membership of the national association is now distributed as follows: Pennsylvania, 20,840; Ohio, 4,734; Illinois, 5,122; Indiana, 2,135; Indian territory, 57; Iowa, 272; Colorado, 242; Wyoming, 544; Maryland, 431; Missouri, 547; Kansas, 123; Tennessee, 129; West Virginia, 178. The society of the "United Sons of Vulcan " comprises iron puddlers and iron boilers. The local unions are called "forges." In addition to the above there are the bricklayers' national union, the united order of American plasterers, the house painters, the hat finishers' association, the knights of St. Crispin (shoemakers), the order of morocco dressers, the journeymen horse shoers' union, the society of locomotive firemen, the mule spinners of the cotton factories, and the weavers, who in May, 1875, amalgamated their local unions into one association. There are also many local societies, some of which, especially among those in the larger cities, are of considerable importance. The financial panic of 1873 was followed by a large reduction in the membership of many of the unions.

In New York city the aggregate membership in 1873 was 44,950; in 1874, 35,765. In 1871 the knights of St. Crispin had about 300 branches and . 70,000 members; now they scarcely have a general organization, though many of the branches survive with a reduced membership. - In the national trades organizations of the United States, legislative power is confided to an assembly of delegates, to which each local union sends a number bearing a stated relation to its membership, and the action of these bodies is generally final. The principal exceptions are in the tailors' union and the iron moulders' union, in both of which questions are decided by a majority of the unions, and not as in England by a majority of individual voters. The assemblies of delegates elect the executive officers, usually for a term of one year. The qualifications for membership in the skilled trades usually include apprenticeship. In the typographical union the period required is four years. This union admits pressmen, and also charters local unions of pressmen. The iron moulders' union admits brass moulders on the same conditions as iron moulders, one of which conditions is the ability to earn the average rate of wages prevailing in the locality where the candidate is employed.

The locomotive engineers require that the candidate shall be a white man, not less than 21 years of age, able to read and write, of temperate habits and good moral character, and possessing at least one year's experience as an engineer. The contributions in the American societies are generally small. Those of the tailors' union are but 10 cts. a month. Among the miners there is a strike fund, to which the contributions are 25 cts. a month. In several unions the initiation fees, and charges for new charters, travelling cards, etc, constitute the only sources of income for general purposes. In the brotherhood of locomotive engineers, the iron moulders' union, and some others, the benefit features, so largely developed in the English societies, appear to a limited extent. In most of the states the trades unions need legislation for the better security of their funds. The subject of a national law for this purpose, and also of legislation for the better protection of life in mining and other dangerous occupations, has been agitated. Nearly all of the societies above named declare themselves opposed to strikes except as a last resort, and several of them require their members to make an effort to settle disputes by arbitration, before applying to the society at large for authority to strike.

A tendency toward federation has manifested itself among the trades unions of the United States, as in the organization of the workingmen's assembly of the state of New York, which however had but a brief existence. In February, 1876, an amalgamated association of iron workers was formed, embracing societies previously existing in different branches of the iron trade. The national labor union, organized at Baltimore in 1866, although assuming to represent the working men of the country, found comparatively little support among the trades unions, and gradually took the form of a political party. A national industrial congress was formed at Cleveland, O., in July, 1873. Besides an exchange of views between the representatives of the different industries, its objects included united action for legislation. Most of the large societies and many of the local unions were represented. - See Le-mercier, Etudes sur les associations ouvrrieres (Paris, 1857); Brentano, Lie Arocitsgilden der Gegentcart (Leipsic, 1871 et seq.); the count de Paris, Les associations ouxrieres en Angleterre (French and English, 1869); Nadaud, Histoire des classes ouvrieres en Angleterre (Paris, 1872); Leroy-Beaulieu, La question outriere au XIXe siecle (Paris, 1872); Bamberger, Die Arbei-terfrage (Stuttgart, 1873); and Mazaroz, Les chaines de l'esclarage moderne (Paris, 1876).