Collective Interest  
Labour Movement
Labour and employment law
Labour rights
Trade union
Strike action
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Labour Movement

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The labour movement (or labor movement) is a broad term for the development of a collective organization of working people, to campaign in their own interest for better treatment from their employers and political governments, in particular through the implementation of specific laws governing labor relations. Labour unions and trade unions are common names for the specific collective organizations within societies, organized for the purpose of representing the interests of workers and the working class. Many elite-class individuals and political groups may also be active in and part of the labour movement.

In some countries including the United Kingdom and Australia the term is widely used to describe both a "political wing" and an "industrial wing". In Britain these are the Labour Party and Trades Union Congress (TUC) collectively. The Labour Party was created, as the Labour Representation Committee as a result of an 1899 resolution of the TUC, though in modern times, particularly since the election of Tony Blair as leader of the Labour Party in 1994, the alliance is seen to be much looser and a number of unions have broken their formal ties with the party.


In Europe, the labour movement began during the industrial revolution, when agricultural jobs declined and employment moved to more industrial areas. The idea met with great resistance. In the 18th century and early 19th century, groups such as the Tolpuddle Martyrs of Tolpuddle, Dorset were punished and deported for forming unions, which was against the laws of the time.

Throughout the world, action by the labour movement has led to reforms and workers' rights, such as the 2-day weekend, minimum wage, paid holidays, and the achievement of the eight-hour day for many workers. There have been many important labour activists in modern history who have caused changes that were revolutionary at the time and are now regarded as basic. For example, Mary Harris Jones, better known as Mother Jones, was central in the campaign to end child labour in the United States during the early 20th century. An active and free labour movement is considered by many to be an important element in maintaining democracy and for economic development.

A popular bumper sticker in the United States in the 1990s was, "The labor movement; the folks that brought you the weekend."

Development of labour movements within nation states

Historically labour markets have often been constrained by national borders that have restricted movement of workers. Labour laws are also primarily determined by individual nations or states within those nations. While there has been some efforts to adopt a set of international labour standards throughout the International Labour Organization (ILO), international sanctions for failing to meet such standards are very limited. In many countries labour movements have developed independently and reflect those national boundaries. The Australian labour movement is an example of a labour movement that has grown and existed in a particular national context.

Development of an international labour movement

With ever increasing levels of international trade and rising influence of multinational corporations, there has been debate and action within the labour movement broadly to attempt international co-operation. This has led to renewed efforts to organise and collectively bargain internationally. A number of international union organisations have been established in an attempt to facilitate international collective bargaining, to share information and resources and to advance the interests of workers generally.


  • Robert N. Stern, Daniel B. Cornfield, The U.S. labor movement:References and Resources, G.K. Hall & Co 1996

  • John Hinshaw and Paul LeBlanc (ed.), U.S. labor in the twentieth century : studies in working-class struggles and insurgency, Amherst, NY : Humanity Books, 2000

  • Beverly Silver: Forces of Labor. Worker's Movements and Globalization since 1870, Cambridge University Press, 2003, ISBN 0-521-52077-0

  • St. James Press Encyclopedia of Labor History Worldwide, St. James Press 2003 ISBN 1-55862-542-9

List of national labour movements

  • Australian labour movement

  • Labor unions in the United States


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