We condemn the war and support Ukraine in its struggle for democratic values.
We also encourage you to join the #StandWithUkraine movement by making a donation at this link
Resolved, Unions are Obsolete


I completely disagree with this motion that claims that "Resolved, unions are obsolete". That line of thinking is misleading and does not appreciate what trade unions have been doing and are still doing all over the world. ‘It is very conspicuous that trade unions are the workers weapons when it comes to putting their troubles across and no replacement for these unions can help to even half the way to success’ (Ryan, 2009: 76).

Trade unions are organizations made by workers that bring them together to achieve common goals like better working condition and better payments. The trade union leadership is the one that negotiates with employer on behalf of the workers. It negotiates with the employers collective bargains for its members; this is for both the rank and file members. The negotiation are not limited to work rules, wages, rules on hiring and firing of employees, compliant procedures, benefits for the employees and also workplace safety and policies. Any agreement made between the leaders and the employers are binding to all rank and file members of the union and may even sometimes extend to other non-member workers. Trade unions have been around for long and have done a lot on helping workers.

Trade unions have not only helped the workers themselves, but have also served as a fighting platform for the rights of the societies as whole. Without trade union less could have already been achieved to raise the both working and living conditions of workers world wide and to protect them from the greediness of their tyrant employers. Employers are so inhuman that without external forces forcing them into the right ways the will always oppress their poor workers. There were situations where employees were fired without any protocols being followed. They were paid too low compared to the set standards and a normal employee lived in poverty as his rich employer drive a fleet of posh cars.

Successful trade unions

Trade unions in the post- Civil war were extremely successful in organizing the workers to fight for their rights. This era saw the birth of major trade unions like the Knights of Labor, National Labor Union (NLU), Industrial Workers of the World and the American Federation of Labor (AFL). This unions transformed worker union in lots of ways and without them it would have taken many years to achieve those gains. The trade unions were defined their range of workers, skills and also class of its workers.

Knights of Labor

The Knights of Labor was founded in 1869 in Philadelphia by Uriah Stephens and six other people. It was formed to organize, educate and direct the power of the industrial workers to fight for rights of the member workers as per their 1878 Constitution. It managed to gather many people to join the Order, which was to create “greatest good to greatest number of people”. The Knights goals were productive work, education, civic responsibility, temperance and self-improvement”. Although it was operated as a secret society till 1881 its member base grew rapidly due to the economic depression of 1870’s. ‘Bankers, lawyers, speculators, teachers and dealers were however, not allowed to join because they were not production workers’ (Ryan, 2009: 90). 

It was the Knights of labor that fought for eight hours a day work time and also the laws to end child labor and convict labor. It also fought for equal pay for equal work and also establishment of cooperatives instead of the traditional wage system. They also introduced boycotts and peaceful negotiations instead of strikes.

National Labor Union (NLU)

National Labor Union was the first trade union that to be formed that catered for workers all over the USA.  It existed between 1866 and 1873 and sought to reform working conditions through legislation rather than through collective bargains and strikes. It organized both skilled and unskilled workers, reformers and farmers into a coalition that was to pressure the Congress to pass laws that were to limit working hours to eight in a day. It managed to attract over seventy seven delegates and had as many as 500,000 members before its collapse. It also called for formation of national labor party.  This was to serve as alternative for the two parties that already existed. ‘The union managed to achieve the eight hours a day for government workers. It also achieved to have the laws enforced in New York and California. It also paved way for other national trade unions that came after it’ (Howell, 2007: 88).

Industrial Workers of the World (Wobblies)

Industrial Workers of the World was founded in Chicago, Illinois in 1905 and has over 12,000 members. It is an international trade union. At its peak in 1923, it had more than 100,000 members with other 300,000 workers supporting it. Membership did not apply to workers from only certain areas but every worker could be a member. It believed that all workers should be united as a class and that the old wage system should be abolished. ‘In its preamble, it is stated that working class and the employing class did not have anything in common and that there cannot be peace so long as there is hunger among the working class’ (Howell, 2007: 104).

Successes of trade unions

Annual leaves were first achieved in 1941. This was achieved after long campaigns by trade unions. The first annual leave was a one week leave but continual works of the trade unions have seen this elongated to over three weeks in many countries world wide. Sick leaves were not awarded to workers until 1920’s. Before then sick workers were to go for work or were to go without pay. Sick workers also faced possible dismissal. Long service leave was won in 1953 in Victoria,’ (McIlroy, 1995: 56). This was inhuman since most of these workers got sick due to poor working conditions at the work places. They were to spend their already worked for money in treatment sine the employers gave no medical allowances.

Before 1979 ACTU campaign, there were no maternity leaves and mother will get dismissed when they were pregnant. Those who were lucky would have to reapply for the same post if they find no one has already been employed there. ACTU campaign managed to award worker maternity leaves that however, were no paid for.  This meant a mother still could go back to work where she was working after the leave without being dismissed from work. With no pay during maternity leave mothers had to return to job early before they are strong enough so as to get money to support their children thus endangering their health and that for the babies. Australia was the last industrial nation to award maternity leaves. Currently workers go for paid maternal leaves and also paternal leaves. 

Women worker before 1949 were only paid 54% of the rates men doing the same work were paid. This was upgraded to 75% after the year and a major campaign in 1972 dubbed Equal Pay for Work of Equal Value earned women equal pay. Without trade unions women workers would still be paid less for the same work as men. Trade unions helped stopped this injustice on women by giving them equal pay. Currently still many employers are against the idea but they have no option but to obey the agreement.

In 1902 workers compensation were introduced.  This was not enough and trade union continued their fights. In 1985 in Victoria, a new scheme with three distinct arms was launched. This arms were prevention (many employer were responsible for workers welfare), compensation and rehabilitation (helping injured worker recover and allowing them back into work force if they are able). This was a great achievement since many formerly the only way to get compensation was by suing the employer at the common law. The common law was a cumbersome way as it involved a lot of time and money paid out to lawyers. One also faced possible dismissal after suing the employer because the company considered them disobedient to its polices..

Workers working on low pay and health hazard conditions, like the workers who worked in factories producing for the Nike Company products; have also had their situations improved through trade unions. After world wide complaints by trade unions, workers in the factories finally received better pay. Teachers all over the world have depended a lot on trade unions for their salary increases.


With these numerous achievements on their fights for workers who are their members and also not members, trade unions are still necessary. They can even achieved a lot in future as a lot is still left to be achieved in terms of workers rights in work places all over the world. Without trade unions many employers will oppress their workers and no one will be there to fight for them. Any argument that the unions are obsolete is therefore, an obsolete and malicious argument that does not have workers in its aims. I support the continued existed of trade unions and their goals for workers world wide.

Order now

Related essays