Lecture 11.1

Unions and Collective Bargaining


Emmanuel Teitelbaum

What do Unions Do?

What is a Labor (Trade) Union?

  • An organization of workers who coordinate to improve their terms and conditions of employment

  • Areas of coordination

    • Wages and benefits
    • Working conditions
    • Safety standards
    • Rules governing termination and promotion
  • Collective bargaining

  • Strategic withdrawal of labor (strikes)

Trade Union Presence

Source: ILO, retrieved from Wikimedia Commons

Workplace Democracy

  • Workers’ councils
    • Codetermination
  • Representation on company boards
    • Parity of ownership
  • Worker ownership of means of production
    • e.g. socialism
  • Muncipal socialism
  • Industrial unionism (Eugene Debbs)

Trade Union Philosophies

  • Select one leader

  • How did the leader you selected view unionism?

    • What was its broader purposes?
    • What goals would it achieve?
    • Did the bio change your understanding of unions?

Union Organizing in America

A Paradox

  • Unions bring many benefits
  • 71% of Americans approve of unions (Gallop)
  • But only 10% belong

Why is Union Organizing so Hard?

  • What are some of the obstacles organizers face?
  • Why are many workers reluctant to join?

International Labor NGOs

Rana Plaza Collapse

Global Framework Agreements

  • Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety
    • Mostly American companies
    • Not legally binding
    • Expired after five years, not renewed
  • Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh
    • Mostly European companies
    • Legally binding
    • Renewed after 5 years but undermined by garment manufacturers in Bangladesh

Global Apparel Pricing

Bangladesh Pricing

Pricing and Labor Rights


  • Trade unions in developing countries male-dominated

  • Tied to political parties

  • INGOs undemocratic, lack connection to workers


  • How to improve unions?
    • More effective response to globalization, automation
    • Internal governance/democracy
    • Success at organizing
  • What kind of role should unions have?
    • In economic governance
    • In politics
    • In society