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Modern Unions

Modern Trade Unions

The most important function of trade unions in democratic, industrialized countries is negotiation of collective agreements with employers. The subjects covered in contemporary agreements go far beyond the original ones of wages and hours, reflecting the increased complexity of modern society, the strength of unions, and the workers' rising expectations. In some cases collective agreements specify wages, hours, working conditions, and benefits in great detail. In other cases unions have used their political power to win enactment of laws that provide benefits and protection—increased pensions and unemployment compensation, safety regulations, extended vacations, educational and maternity leave, housing, health insurance, and perhaps most important, carefully monitored grievance procedures to protect workers against any arbitrary action.

In countries that today are subject to any form of authoritarian government—whether growing out of a revolution, a military or civil coup, or foreign intervention—independent trade unions are not permitted to represent workers. Trade unions in Eastern Europe and China, for example, have acted as arms of the government, helping to achieve centrally planned production programs; many of these unions are also charged with administering social-welfare programs.

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