Trade Unions Meaning, Features, Objectives, Role, Functions, Types

11/07/2021 0 By indiafreenotes

A trade union is an organised expression of needs, attitude and expectations of the workers. To an average person, a trade union signifies an organisation of worker engaged in securing certain economic benefits for its members.

A trade union is an association of workers formed with the object of improving the conditions of workers. It is formed for protecting the interests of workers. Workers have little bargaining capacity when they are unorganized. In fact, trade union movement began against the exploitation of workers by certain managements under the capitalist system.

In modern context, however, trade unions activities are not confined to mere securing the economic benefits. The preview of activities now includes even the political and welfare activities undertaken by it for the benefits of its members.


  • Since trade unions are voluntary, an employee has a choice to join or not to join a union. Similarly, a trade union has choice to affiliate or not to affiliate itself with an apex body of trade unions.
  • Such associations at the level of individual organizations as well as the apex bodies with which these may be affiliated fall in the category of trade unions.
  • Trade unions are voluntary associations formed by employees to safeguard their interests through collective actions.


Economic Objectives:

  • To secure better and more fringe benefits
  • To secure for workers fair wages
  • To safeguard security of job of employees
  • To improve productivity
  • To secure better working conditions
  • To secure opportunities for growth and development of employees
  • To seek opportunities for promotion, training and so on
  1. Non-Economic Objectives:

Some of the main non-economic objectives of trade unions may include:

  • To influence the socio-economic policies of the community through civic participation in their formulation at various levels
  • To instil in its members a sense of social responsibility
  • To contribute towards community development
  • To strengthen political power of the workers
  • To render social service
  • To promote national integration and so on

Thus, trade unions aim at not only protecting and promoting economic, social and political interests of their members but also contributing towards betterment of the community.


Secure Power to Influence Government:

This involves influence on government to pass labour legislation which improves working conditions, safety, welfare, security and retirement benefits of workers and their dependents, seek redressal of grievances as and when needed.

Secure Power to Influence Management:

This involves workers’ participation in management, decision making, role of union in policy decisions affecting workers, and staff members.

Obtain Better Economic Returns:

This involves wages hike at periodic intervals, bonus at higher rate, other admissible allowances, subsidized canteen and transport facilities.

Ensure Security of Workers:

This involves continued employment of workers, prevent retrenchment, lay off or lock-outs. Restrict application of “fire” or dismissal or discharge and VRS.


  • Providing security to the workers and keeping check over the hiring and firing of workers.
  • Collective bargaining with the management for securing better work environment for the workers/ employees.
  • Helping the management in redressal of grievances of workers at appropriate level.
  • To negotiate with management certain matters like hours of work, fringe benefits, wages and medical facilities and other welfare schemes.
  • If any dispute/matter remains unsettled referring the matter for arbitration.
  • To develop cooperation with employers.
  • To arouse public opinion in favour of labour/workers.


Craft/Occupational Unions:

A craft union is an organisation of wage-earners engaged in a single craft or occupation or a group of closely related crafts or occupations. Unions of carpenters, plumbers, electricians, weavers and crane drivers come under the category of craft unions. Examples of craft unions are Indian Pilots’ Guild and International Wood Carvers’ Association.

There are also unions having their membership open to a group of different crafts. Such unions are known as multiple craft unions. Craft unions have been widely prevalent in the USA and the UK. In India, such unions are scarce. Closely related to craft unions are occupational/professional unions. A professional/occupational union is essentially a union of employees with specialised skills such as unions of teachers, physicians, engineers and chartered accountants. Craft unions may be formed at the plant, locality, company, regional, industry or even national level.


The main strength of craft unions lies in their strategic position; strong bargaining power; compactness and cohesiveness of the group and ability to protect and promote the interests of the members in an effective manner.


Weaknesses of craft unions include the following; proneness to division in the ranks of workers; vulnerability to being broken easily by the employer; difficulties in organising strong joint action and greater probability of instability as a result of technological changes and blurring of craft distinctions.

Industrial Unions:

An industrial union is the one which covers all categories of workers engaged in a particular industrial establishment or industry as a whole, irrespective of distinctions based on craft, skill or job. It organises all groups of workers; unskilled, semi-skilled, skilled and highly skilled within one common fold. Such unions may also be formed at the plant, region or industry level. Industrial unions are the common type in most countries of the world including India.

In India, most of the industrial unions have been formed at the plant level. These unions may or may not be affiliated to a federation at higher levels. In the USA and the UK, which have a strong tradition of the formation of craft unions, there has been a substantial growth of industrial unions during more recent years. The United Automobile Workers is a typical example of industrial union in the USA. Examples of industrial unions in India are Tata Workers’ Union, Colliery Mazdoor Sangh and Indian National Textile Workers’ Federation.


The points of strength of industrial unions are as follows – their ability to promote solidarity among heterogeneous groups of workers; convenience in negotiations with the employer; greater adaptability in the event of technological changes and greater measure of strength and effectiveness in collective bargaining and industrial action.


The weaknesses of industrial unions include the following – difficulties in satisfying all groups of members; more attention to the interests of the group providing bulk of membership; encouragement to the formation of small-sized unions on account of ease in establishing a union with only a few members, which results in multiplicity of unions and union rivalries even in a small-sized establishment and creating difficulties in recognition of representative union.

General Unions:

A general union is the one, the membership of which is open to all categories of workers, irrespective of considerations of craft, occupation, craft, industry or employment. With a few exceptions, general unions in India are confined mainly at the local level. The membership of these unions is usually composed of employees of small establishments and employments.

Generally speaking, the problems facing these employees are, more or less, common. As employees of a single establishment are not in a position to exert an effective pressure on the employer on their own, they join a general union of the locality in the expectation of more fruitful results. In many cases, the employers of the area owning small-sized establishments also form their associations for taking a united stand in negotiations.

In some countries such as the UK, general unions have been formed also at higher levels. A typical example of general union is the Transport and General Workers’ Union of the UK. The Textile Labour Association of Ahmedabad, which has been a federation of craft unions in the textile industry of the city, has opened its membership to employees of local bodies, shops and establishments and some other employments.