This article does not cite any sources. (August 2023)
A trade union or labor union is an association of workers which creates a monopoly on the labor power of its members. Unions may be stratified into specific employers or industries in order to maximize their effectiveness. This monopoly on a type of work controls the allocation of workers and enables collective bargaining with the employer, be it the state or a corporation. Unions receive dues from their members, and they may pool this money either for administrative purposes such as media production, or for use during a risky action such as a strike.
Strike action appears to be as old as wage labor itself. The oldest known strike occurred in Ancient Egypt in 1152 BC. Similar tactics include the secessio plebis of the early Roman Republic, in which the commoner class won political representation in the early 5th century BC by cutting off the supply of grain and commodities to the exploiter class. The plebeians achieved their end in a matter of days.
Industrial labor unionism goes back to the formation of the modern proletariat in the late 18th century. The English Luddite and Chartist movements were both instrumental in forming the tactics of industrial organizing.
In capitalist society, trade unions are intended to fight to improve the working conditions of their members. They may or may not have an explicit political character, and unions espousing Marxism-Leninism, anarchism, syndicalism, and other far-left positions can be found the world over, although less often in countries like the United States. These radical unions are more likely to engage in political and theoretical education for their members. In What is to be Done?, Lenin states that the purpose of unions is to create contact with the working class for a revolutionary purpose. He points out the limitations of "economism" wherein the stated goals of the union lie within the framework of capitalism. Right-wing unions also exist and can play pivotal roles, such as in the US-backed 1973 Chilean truckers' strike, which went on for more than a year and nearly succeeded in bringing down the Allende government.
Under a socialist state, unions become a much more powerful type of organization, which engages in contact with the state to perform political actions on behalf of their workers. However, their role can also be counter-revolutionary, as in the example of the Polish union Solidarity, helped to restore capitalism in Poland.