Back to WHKMLA Main Index . WHKMLA, Students' Papers Main Page . WHKMLA, Students' Papers, 13th Wave Index Page

Labour Unions as Represented in Historic Encyclopedias

Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Kim, Young Yul
Term Paper, AP European History Class, June 2009

Table of Contents

I. Introduction
II. Advent of Labour Unions
II.1 British Labour Unions in Meyers Encyclopedia 1885-1892, Article : Gewerkschaft
II.2 German Labour Unions in Meyers Encyclopedia 1885-1892, Article : Gewerkschaft
II.3 France, Italy Labour Unions in Meyers Encyclopedia 1885-1892, Article : Gewerkschaft
III. Labour Unions in the Early 20th Century
III.1 British Unions in Meyers Encyclopedia 1905, Article : Gewerkschaft
III.2 German Unions in Meyers Encyclopedia 1905, Article : Gewerkschaft
III.3 Other Countries Unions in Meyers Encyclopedia 1905, Article : Gewerkschaft
IV. Conclusion

I. Introduction
            Current Britannica defines labour union (trade union) as "association of labourers in a particular trade, industry, or company, created for the purpose of securing improvements in pay, benefits, working conditions, or social and political status through collective bargaining." Other encyclopedias describe the term similarly. Regardless of the time of edition and origin of an encyclopedia, the basic concept of labor union remains fundamentally same: an organization formed by workers to improve their social, political, and economic status.
            This paper will focus on how perspectives of encyclopedias toward labor unions changed from 19th century to 20th century. Labour unions went through major incidents after its existence and its position in the society significantly changed. Such change would be pointed out in the edition of encyclopedias in each time era and in each country¡¯s separate encyclopedia.

II. Advent of Labour Unions
            Before the end of 19th century, encyclopedias did not have concept of labor unions. Those that have explanation of labour unions are not explaining the concept that corresponds to our idea of labor unions. "Gewerkschaft" in the early 19th century also represented a group of people congregated for the purpose of efficient mining.
            Adelung, a 1793 edition German encyclopedia, does not have information about labor unions. Labor unions can be translated to Gewerkschaft or Gewerkvereine in German. For both words in Herders edited in 1854 to 1857 and in Brockhaus edited in 1837, no results were found. Even encyclopedias in mid 19th century had no results for labor unions. Therefore, labor unions came about to existence in late 19th century without doubt.

II.1 British Labour Unions in Meyers Encyclopedia 1885-1892, Article : Gewerkschaft
            Meyers encyclopedia edited in 1885 to 1892 presents the first result in the timeline. Similarly to other current encyclopedias, Meyers encyclopedia (1885-1892) describes labor unions in England. As described in the Meyers encyclopedia, labor unions, at first, were formed for economic purposes. The world started to change as an industrial society and workers in factory were engaged in economical activities. Labour unions further had to strive for workers¡¯ adequate wages, humanly working hours and kind of work, the protection of a well-arranged treatment, and regulation of vacancies. Labour unions had to form for equality in pay for every worker and for prevention of possible exploitation of workers. For example, if one worker is paid less or more than other workers for no justifiable reasons, labour unions will negotiate with employers. Because labor unions speak for employees, negotiation between labour unions and employers would represent negotiation between two classes, employees and employers. Explanation of formation of labour unions in this edition represents that workers needed a system that can protect workers¡¯ basic rights. It views the time of beginning of industrialized society when no laws were specifically established to protect workers and employers endlessly attempted to maximize their profits.
            The following paragraphs illustrate the advent of strike. As explained in the article, it seems the concept of strike existed ever since the beginning of the history of labour unions. In order to start a strike, the central committee must allow the strike. Purpose or support of strike is to prevent excessive employment by the employers. Also, the strike can prevent illegal child employment and illegal employment of unqualified workers. The central committee allowed such human coercive power to employees so that they can change their own working environment. Although, in these days, strikes are mainly used to save their wages, employees had to strike for moral purposes in those times.
            Original economic purposes that labour unions had expanded to other areas. After the beginning of industrial period, labour unions expanded to save their positions further. Labour unions started to support the case of the unemployment, the illness, the working inability, the death, and event of emigration. Also they worked for the worry for the elevation of the education and the morality of members, the care for other useful equipment. Also, labour unions got entrance fees from workers. Workers had to pay varying from 5 Shillings to 20 Shillings in 14 weeks.
            As labour unions developed, their activities got excess at times. Presidents recommended labor unions to regulate from wasting money and human resources too much on activities. As a result of endless strikes and political movements, workers could gain political position and were recognized by others in the Congress. The article also emphasized the influence of labour unions on employers.

II.2 German Labour Unions in Meyers Encyclopedia 1885-1892, Article : Gewerkschaft
            The article describes labor unions in Germany far misled compared to English ones. It starts introducing labour unions by criticizing rather than appreciating, as shown in paragraphs about England. Author seems to believe that German labour unions had problems compared to English ones. Furthermore, the author says labour unions were merely organs of the social democracy, the socialist labour party in Germany, and they simply functioned with some events related with the party. Max Hirsch and Franz Dunker appear in the article, and it seem that they have created a labor union called Hirsch-Dunckersche Gewerkschaft. It tried to follow the English model. But the author emphasizes that there were differences between the German and the English.
            Major differences are described in the following paragraph. First, labor unions in Germany did not exist with firm terms of admission. Second, labour unions of Germany did not merge powers so they mostly remained weak compared to that English labor union had. Also, there were no clear directors that lead German labour unions. Thus, labour unions lacked in systematic and structural power, so it could move less efficiently. While English labour unions congregated, acted on strikes systematically, and eventually bringing about successfully results for well-being of workers, German labour unions could not do as efficiently as English labor unions due to lack of leadership and formative structure. Third, German labour unions only formed based on local occupational associations. Fourth, German labour unions have different structure of association. All labour unions and local associations form together the federation of the German labour unions whose organs are confederation day, representative of linked labour unions and independent local associations. The administrative organ is the central council. And for German labour unions, different supporting purposes strictly separate caches exist, and they support unemployment.
            The author started by criticizing functions of labour unions in German, but the content gets more substantial and objective in the end. Craft associations and local associations do not support sick people, and treat unemployed people as invalid. Also, it seems labour unions united and collected cash except German mechanical engineering workers and metal workers. They collect a certain different amount of money according to workers¡¯ age. Lastly, also in Germany, morality and intellectuality of strikes were emphasized.

II.3 France, Italy Labor Unions in Meyers Encyclopedia 1885-1892, Article : Gewerkschaft
            France restricted labour unions at first. Even syndicates affiliated to labour unions existed in France. France reduced the level of restriction step by step following democratic manner. The coalition ban marked an important point in the history of labour unions, and as time reached the 20th century, labor unions developed rapidly. Labour unions in France differ from English and German ones much in that they did not calculate real fund up to now for immediate activity.
            In Italy, labour unions have originated since the beginning of seventies. Just like labour unions in other countries, they tried to shorten work hours and raise wage. Some received reliefs, but strike was no recommended. Associations funded labour unions, and those who donated certain amount of money could be in a special club. The first labour unions originated in 1830s and 1840s. They were only made locally and did not last long. In 1950s, labour unions of a size of pervading a nation came about. Still, many labour unions of local level existed. By 1880s, activities and existence of labour unions started to prosper. All labor unions' prior purpose was the 8 hour workday. The number of workers in labour unions increased constantly.
            Therefore, from labour unions of England, Germany, and other countries, we can infer what early labour unions looked like. Their primary reason for existence was improvement of their working condition. The concept of "strike" existed ever since they were made. The level of labour unions differed in each country, but it seemed it developed most in England. Moreover, labour unions at that time included broader kind of congregation of workers and congregated less effectively then now since their structure was left blank due to lack of strong leadership.

III Labour Unions in the Early 20th Century
            Meyers encyclopedia edited in 1905 also describes labor unions at that time. Definition of labor unions at that time is similar to that late 19th century had.
            "Labor unions are connections of wage-labor workers of a certain trade for the support of her whole economic and social interests."
            She seems to represent a labor union. But differences exist. It seems labor unions have developed.
            "These try to realize the G. by local and temporal regulation of the vacancies, employment agencies and granting of support for the case of the unemployment, the illness, the Invalidit?t, the death and in the interest of the work force necessary emigration."
            The G. is gewerkschaft in German which means labour union. In Meyers dictionary described in 19th century, it was said that benefits for the sick and the unemployed were not supported by labour unions. However, labour unions of 20th century described above support those two types as well.
            "The offer of manpower can be influenced by the G. if in central offices above the state of the job market regularly report is refunded and is provided for a balance of local abundance and lack, if in the fight with employers with deliberate strikes these are organized for a bigger area level-according."
            It also seemed to gain much order in system of labor unions. Also, system or structure of funds and money seem to have been organized so that it can be used efficiently for action of labor unions.
            "The effectiveness of the G. can apply further still to such equipment which brings use, like cooperatives, food institutions etc., then also on care for the continuing education of the members to the workers. The means for her issues procure the G. by entrance fees, regular weekly contributions and extraordinary editions."
            As explained in this sentence, the role and function of labor unions expanded to such extent where labor unions care more about well-being of workers.

III.1 British Unions in Meyers Encyclopedia 1905, Article : Gewerkschaft
            "But also after granting of the freedom of coalition the G. were still restrained very much."
            In England, the freedom of coalition had been granted, but labour unions were still restrained much. They lacked juridical personality. But this was during the middle of 19th century. Its description of labour unions in 19th century did not change much.
            "From you the G. started to develop more hard. It also there formed under the influence of the Women's Trades union Provident league G. with female members, namely not only those in which male and female members are equal side by side (1900: 122,047 female members), but also associations with exclusively female members."
            Development of English labor unions can be clearly seen in this statement; labor unions serving women¡¯s rights were created.
            "Since 1887 have also begun unqualified (unskilled) worker to organize in craft associations."
            Meyers dictionary of 19th century stated that labor unions did not accept unemployed workers and others who do not fit in a certain condition. But it seems labor unions started to accept unskilled workers.
            "The leader of this new G., John Burns, has brought to life in particular among the dockers and sailors mighty unions."
            While the former edition did not have any explanation of specific leaders, the 20th century edition has. It seems that English labour unions effectively carried out strikes and negotiations with strong leadership and faster distribution of money. Generally, the latter edition looks at the development of labour unions postitively

III.2 German Unions in Meyers Encyclopedia 1905, Article : Gewerkschaft
            20th century edition describes labor unions of 19th century in German similarly to the former edition, but with more specific names. It also has explanations of what happened further after.
            "The federation invalid cash founded in 1869 resolved in 1889 again. During 31 1869-1899 years the income of all associations approx. 27, the issues was 24.2 Mill. Mk., under this sick person's support and burial money 14.2, invalid's support 1.8, for legal protection, support with unemployment etc. 3.8 Mill. Mk."
            German associations obviously supported the sick at the very end of 19th century.
            "Since 1887 exists in Hamburg a general committee of the trade unions of Germany which a uniform management of the whole trade union movement should allow and regulate the support of strikes."
            Furthermore, it seems that Germany labor unions gained a strong administrative system to thoroughly control labor unions.
            "In March, 1892 the first German trade union congress met in half town on which the foundation was decided by confederations of industries (cartels) which should combine the branch associations of related occupations; those associations should belong possibly to the same federation whose members are occupied in the same factories and workshops."
            German labor unions kept developing, making visible progress like creating the first German trade union congress. Differently from the former edition, the latter edition does not show much negative attitude toward German labor unions.

III.3 Other Countries
            "In Austria the difference of nationality, language forms etc. an obstacle for the development of GS. To the fact comes that because of the uncertain version of the association law the associations are put almost completely in the pleasure of the authorities."
            In Austria, language hindered growth of labor unions.

IV. Conclusion
            There were many changes from the former Meyers Encyclopedia edition of 1885-1892 to the latter Meyers Encyclopedia edition of 1905. Although Meyers Encyclopedia is German, the writer of the article stated negative opinions about German labour unions while praising British one. Nonetheless, Meyers encyclopedia got objective in 1905 edition. General development of labour unions is described above as I analyzed in the difference of two editions. Labour unions expanded and could build more structure so that they could move more effectively for their purpose. They worked for more and more people as time passed just as they worked for the sick, the unemployed and woman in the 1905 edition.


Note : websites quoted below were visited in June 2009.
1.      Meyer¡¯s Encyclopedia 1905, Article: Gewerkvereine, German language text posted by Zeno, English translation by Paralink
2.      Meyer¡¯s Encyclopedia 1885-1892, Article: Gewerkvereine, German language text posted by Retro Bibliothek

Back to WHKMLA Main Index . WHKMLA, Students' Papers Main Page . WHKMLA, Students' Papers, 12th Wave Index Page