Classification of Trade Unions



Classification of trade unions is based upon ideology, trade and agreement.

Classification based on ideology

a. Revolutionary Unions: Believe in destruction of existing social/economic order and creation of a new one. They want shift in power and authority and use of force - Left Unions.

b. Reformist or Welfare Unions: Work for changes and reforms within existing socio-political framework of society - European Model.

c. Uplift Unions: Advocate extensive reforms well beyond the area of working condition i.e., change in taxation system, elimination of poverty etc.

Classification based on trade

  • Many unions have memberships and jurisdictions based on the trades they represent. The most narrow in membership is the craft union, which represents only members certified in a given craft or trade, such as pipe fitting, carpentry, and clerical work. Although very common in the western world, craft unions are not common in countries like India and Sri Lanka.
  • At the other extreme in terms of the range of workers represented in the general union, which has members drawn from all trades. Most unions in India and Sri Lanka are in this category.
  • Another common delineation of unions based on trades or crafts is that between so called blue-collar workers and white-collar workers. Unions representing workers employed on the production floor, or outdoor trades such as in construction work, are called blue-collar unions. In contrast, those employees in shops and offices and who are not in management grades and perform clerical and allied functions are called white-collar workers.
  • In addition, trade unions may be categorised on the basis of the industry in which they are employed. Examples of these are workers engaged in agriculture of forestry: hence agricultural labour unions or forest worker unions.

Classification based on agreement


Another basis on which labour agreements are sometimes distinguished is on basis of the type of agreement involved, based on the degree to which membership in the union is a condition of employment. These are:

a. Closed Shop: Where management and union agree that the union would have sole responsibility and authority for the recruitment of workers, it is called a Closed Shop agreement. The worker joins the union to become an employee of the shop. The Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 bans closed shop agreements in the USA, although they still exist in the construction and printing trades. Sometimes, the closed shop is also called the ‘Hiring Hall.’

b. Union Shop: Where there is an agreement that all new recruits must join the union within a fixed period after employment it is called a union shop. In the USA where some states are declared to be ‘right-to-work’.

c. Preferential Shop: When a Union member is given preference in filling a vacancy, such an agreement is called Preferential Shop.

d. Maintenance Shop: In this type of arrangement no compulsory membership in the union before or after recruitment exists. However, if the employee chooses to become a member after recruitment, his membership remains compulsory right throughout his tenure of employment with that particular employer. This is called a maintenance of membership shop or maintenance shop.

e. Agency Shop: In terms of the agreement between management and the union a non union member has to pay the union a sum equivalent to a member’s subscription in order to continue employment with the employer. This is called an agency shop.

f. Open Shop: Membership in a union is in no way compulsory or obligatory either before or after recruitment. In such organisations, sometimes there is no union at all. This is least desirable form for unions. This is referred to as an open shop.

The above classifications are more usual in the west than on the Indian sub-continent.