Quite understandably, the macro-environmental factors in which trade union organizations are operating are no more the same, and the same has greatly tamed the outlook and has shaped ideologies of trade unions. This paper is an attempt to have a brief look at these changes, their causes, and the recent evolution in the role of trade unions, the adaption of trade unions to the same and future directions.
It was in 1790 when for the first time, some skilled craftsmen, in response to the populist movements of that time, organized themselves into groups, which were later known as unions. Their main aim was to ensure that there is a mutually agreed minimum wage between the employees and the employers and they went from shop to shop in order to ensure that no labor accepts wage lower than this minimum wage limit. However, in the coming years, due to depressions and many other factors, unions’ membership witnessed a decline. Nevertheless, this era was when the United States was changing gears towards the industrial revolution. Finally, it was in 1869, when a trade union appeared on the scene with the name of Knights of Labor. By the end of 1886, Knights of Labour had more than 0.7 million workers under its banner (Harcourt amp. Wood, pp. 18-21, 2006).
However, Knights of Labour had more political motives rather than focusing on the welfare of its members. The main aim of KOL was to replace the system of capitalism with socialism and it was working under the umbrella of the populist movements of that time. In the same year, American Federation of Labour (AFL) formed by Samuel Gompers came into being, which focused mainly on the bread and butter gains of its members. Unlike Knights of Labour, the focus of AFL was not only to improve the wages but also to improve the working conditions. Just before the First World War, membership of AFL had peaked to 5.5 million members. However, the unions once again witnessed adecline due to factors like the post world war problems, the great depression, the death of Samuel Gompers and others.