Trade union refers to a group of workers in an organization which focuses on achieving common goals like enhancing safety standards, assuring hikes in pay, receiving benefits related to health care, insurance, retirement, etc. protecting the integrity of its trade, improving safety standards, achieving higher pay and benefits such as health care and retirement, etc. All these goals target at improving mostly the terms of their employment and at times, the working conditions. Now, these terms may include negotiation of their payments or wages, rules for them, rules for being hired, firing a worker, promoting a worker, etc.
But many attempts saw failure until trade unions were finally legalized in 1871. A Royal Commission on Trade Unions in 1867 realised that the establishment of such organizations were going to be beneficial for both employers and employees. During this period, trade unions started growing in other industrializing countries, especially the United States, Germany and France.
Knights of Labor was the first effective nationwide labor organization. It was legalized in 1869, it began to grow post 1880. Legalization occurred slowly as a result of a series of court decisions. In 1881, The Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions began, as a federation of different unions that did not directly enroll workers. In 1886, it became known as the American Federation of Labor or AFL.
A trade union may acquire the status of a "juristic person". This would mean that it would have an artificial legal entity, with legal rights to engage in most of the things a trade union is formed for. In case the employer and the union fail to reach an agreement, the results may lead to industrial action or management lockout, and at times, in extreme cases, violent or illegal activities.
Under some circumstances, a union may not be able to represent workers because of the absence of legal rights. In case a union or a member admits to being a member of one, it may lead to criminal prosecution. It has happened in the past and led to violence and death.
Unions have and even now, at times also engage in political or social struggles. Many unions use their organizational strength to stand for social policies and legislation that favour their members or sometimes, all workers in general.
The service model and the organizing model precisely describe a union. The service model union targets and and focuses basically on maintaining worker rights, providing services, and resolving disputes. Whereas the organizing model typically involves full-time union organizers, who work by building up confidence, strong networks, and leaders within the workforce; and confrontational campaigns involving large numbers of union members. Many unions combine attributes of both the philosophies, and then it becomes tough to decide which model it should be categorized in.
In Britain, trade unions were perceived to be left-leaning in nature and quite like any movie or novel which won't generate interest without an antagonist, the reault was the formation of a rival right-wing trade union called Solidarity which has the support of the BNP (British National Party).
In Denmark, there are some newer apolitical "discount" unions who offer a very basic level of services, as opposed to the dominating Danish pattern of extensive services and organizing.
In contrast, several European countries (e.g. Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Switzerland) have had religious unions existing for decades which have typically distanced themselves from some of the doctrines of orthodox Marxism. The preference of atheism, the rhetoric suggesting that employees' interests always are in conflict with those of employers are things they don't tend to believe.There are ties between some of these Christian unions and centrist or conservative political movements.
'Solidarity' is the biggest trade union in Poland that supports the right-wing 'Law and Justice' party and has grown to become an anti communist movement with religious national over tunes.
Union leaderships are usually formed through democratic elections. There have been research studies conducted by the Australian Centre for Industrial Relations Research and Training which mention that workers in an organization having a trade union avail more benefits and better wages than those without one.
Trade Unions have been effective in the past and are being so today. The impacts and steps taken by them have been beneficial for both the employer and the employees. Although it focuses on an employee's benefits, it just goes to show that by the end of the day, a satisfied employee is more productive. Imagine what it would do to all satisfied employees!