Trade unions

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A trade union (British English), labour union (Canadian English) or labor union (American English) is an organization of workers who have banded together to achieve common goals such as protecting the integrity of its trade, achieving higher pay, increasing the number of employees an employer hires, and better working conditions.

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  • There may be here and there a worker who for certain reasons unexplainable to us does not join a union of labor. That is his right. It is his legal right, no matter how morally wrong he may be. It is his legal right, and no one can or dare question his exercise of that legal right.
    • Samuel Gompers, address delivered to the Council of Foreign Relations, New York City (December 10, 1918), reported in American Federationist (February 1919), p. 160.
  • We will stand by our friends and administer a stinging rebuke to men or parties who are either indifferent, negligent, or hostile, and, wherever opportunity affords, to secure the election of intelligent, honest, earnest trade unionists, with clear, unblemished, paid-up union cards in their possession.
    • Samuel Gompers, "Men of Labor! Be Up and Doing", editorial, American Federationist (May 1906), p. 319.
  • Don't waste any time mourning — organize!
    • Joe Hill, letter to William D. Haywood (November 18, 1915); reported in Philip S. Foner, The Letters of Joe Hill (1965), p. 84. Written while Hill was awaiting execution for a murder for which it was widely believed the evidence had been fabricated.
  • It ill behooves one who has supped at labor's table and who has been sheltered in labor's house to curse with equal fervor and fine impartiality both labor and its adversaries when they become locked in deadly embrace.
    • John Llewellyn Lewis, president of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), radio broadcast (September 3, 1937); reported in Vital Speeches of the Day (September 15, 1937), p. 733. The quote was directed at President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as noted by The New York Times, which reported, "The fact that Mr. Lewis did not mention the President by name did not dull the point in the eyes of those who had followed labor developments through the violent days of last Winter and Spring. These observers unanimously accepted this part of his speech as a direct reference to Mr. Roosevelt's invocation of 'a plague on both your houses' when the labor unions and steel mill operators were 'locked in deadly embrace' only a few months ago"; (September 4, 1937), p. 1.
  • The United Mine Workers and the CIO have paid cash on the barrel for every piece of legislation that we have gotten. We have the Wagner Act. The Wagner Act cost us many dollars in contributions which the United Mine Workers have made to the Roosevelt administration with the explicit understanding of a quid pro quo for labor. These contributions far exceed the notions held by the general public or the press.
    • John Llewellyn Lewis, president of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO); reported in Saul David Alinsky, John L. Lewis: An Unauthorized Biography (1949), p. 177.
  • Trade unions up to a certain point have been recognised now as organs for good. They are the only means by which workmen can protect themselves from the tyranny of those who employ them. But the moment that trade unions become tyrants in their turn, they are engines for evil: they have no right to prevent people from working on any terms that they choose.
    • Lindley, J., Lyons & Sons v. Wilkins (1896), 74 L. T. Rep. (N. S.) 364; reported in James William Norton-Kyshe, The Dictionary of Legal Quotations (1904), p. 238. See also Mogul Steamship Co. v. MacGregor, Gow, & Co., 66 L. T. Rep. (N. S.) 1; Temperton v. Russell and others, 69 L. T. Rep. (N. S.) 78.
  • We are asked to permit a hundred men to go round to the house of a man who wishes to exercise the common law right in this country to sell his labour where and when he chooses, and to 'advise' him or 'peacefully persuade' him not to work. If peaceful persuasion is the real object, why are a hundred men required to do it? ... Every honest man knows why trade unions insist on the right to a strong numerical picket. It is because they rely for their objects neither on peacefulness nor persuasion. Those whom they picket cannot be peacefully persuaded. They understand with great precision their own objects, and their own interests, and they are not in the least likely to be persuaded by the representatives of trade unions, with different objects and different interests. But, though arguments may never persuade them, numbers may easily intimidate them. And it is just because argument has failed, and intimidation has succeeded, that the Labour Party insists upon its right to picket unlimited in respect of numbers.
  • The Conservative Party is the parent of trade unionism, just as it is the author of the Factory Acts. At every stage in the history of the nineteenth century it is to Toryism that trade unionism has looked for help and support against the oppressions of the Manchester School of liberalism, which cared nothing for the interests of the state, and regarded men as brute beasts whose labour could be bought and sold at the cheapest price, irrespective of all other considerations.
  • To remember the loneliness, the fear and the insecurity of men who once had to walk alone in huge factories, beside huge machines—to realize that labor unions have meant new dignity and pride to millions of our countrymen—human companionship on the job, and music in the home—to be able to see what larger pay checks mean, not to a man as an employee, but as a husband and as a father—to know these things is to understand what American labor means.
    • Adlai Stevenson, speech to the American Federation of Labor, New York City (September 22, 1952), in Speeches of Adlai Stevenson (1952), p. 62.

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