Union democracy
Union democracy is a school of thought within organized labor which argues that sound unionism requires adherence to principles and practices of democratic trade unionism; that internal democracy
Democracy is generally defined as a form of government in which all adult citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Ideally, this includes equal participation in the proposal, development and passage of legislation into law...

 and greater membership control make unions stronger and better able to fight for the rights and interests of working people. The goal is to prevent the manifestation of the so-called iron law of oligarchy
Iron law of oligarchy
The iron law of oligarchy is a political theory, first developed by the German syndicalist sociologist Robert Michels in his 1911 book, Political Parties. It states that all forms of organization, regardless of how democratic they may be at the start, will eventually and inevitably develop into...

: that all forms of organization
An organization is a social group which distributes tasks for a collective goal. The word itself is derived from the Greek word organon, itself derived from the better-known word ergon - as we know `organ` - and it means a compartment for a particular job.There are a variety of legal types of...

, regardless of how democratic they may be at the start, eventually and inevitably develop into oligarchies
Oligarchy is a form of power structure in which power effectively rests with an elite class distinguished by royalty, wealth, family ties, commercial, and/or military legitimacy...

 with swollen bureaucracies
A bureaucracy is an organization of non-elected officials of a governmental or organization who implement the rules, laws, and functions of their institution, and are occasionally characterized by officialism and red tape.-Weberian bureaucracy:...


Principles include:
  • Frequent, contested elections, with rank-and-file members regularly challenging incumbents, and resultant turnover in officers and representatives, with all candidates having equal access to membership lists before elections, including the right to copy the list.
  • Open publications, with newsletters and websites publishing all members' views, including those critical of officials, representatives, or union policy, and the union encouraging open and free debate and discussion of issues and candidates; with election candidates having equal use of union publications and means of communication (website, newsletter, e-mail list) to put out their campaign material.
  • Member ratification, with all contracts and "side agreements" between union and management subject to ratification by secret ballot by the members covered by the contract.
  • Strike
    Strike action
    Strike action, also called labour strike, on strike, greve , or simply strike, is a work stoppage caused by the mass refusal of employees to work. A strike usually takes place in response to employee grievances. Strikes became important during the industrial revolution, when mass labour became...

     votes: members should vote on striking, on return to work, and on other decisions during strikes, with strike votes not used to force members to ratify contracts ("either you vote 'yes' or you vote to strike").
  • "Informed vote": the complete text of proposed contract changes, amendments, referendums, etc. should be distributed to members prior to ratification votes, with sufficient time for meaningful membership review and discussion, and the union circulating (or at least not obstructing) different opinions about the contract offer.
  • Election of representatives: shop stewards, business agents and other member representatives (paid or otherwise) should be elected by secret ballot of the members they represent, and subject to recall
    Recall election
    A recall election is a procedure by which voters can remove an elected official from office through a direct vote before his or her term has ended...

     by the members they represent; stewards and active members should be trained in legal rights and organizing
    Organizing is the act of rearranging elements following one or more rules.Anything is commonly considered organized when it looks like everything has a correct order or placement. But it's only ultimately organized if any element has no difference on time taken to find it...

    ; and there should be stewards' councils that meet to plan and coordinate action.
  • Grievants'
    A grievance is a wrong or hardship suffered, which is the grounds of a complaint.-History and politics:A grievance may arise from injustice or tyranny, and be cause for rebellion or revolution....

     rights: workers should participate fully in the grievance process at every step, with full information about their case and its progress.
  • Member access to information: union representatives should provide members current and complete copies of the contract and the union constitution/bylaws, and the contract and constitution should be published on union websites. Members must have easy access to information on officers' salaries, budget, and expenses. Union representatives should regularly inform members of their rights under national and local law, and how to enforce them, including rights and responsibilities under the relevant regulations.
  • Regular local
    Local union
    A local union, often shortened to local, in North America, or a union branch in the United Kingdom and other countries is a locally-based trade union organization which forms part of a larger, usually national, union.Local branches are organized to represent the union's members from a particular...

     meetings, to be at least quarterly, announced ahead of time, at a time and place convenient to members, with an agenda circulated in advance, under reasonable quorum
    A quorum is the minimum number of members of a deliberative assembly necessary to conduct the business of that group...

     requirements not set so high as to prevent valid membership meetings. Real business should be conducted (not just a pep rally), with members encouraged to speak, make proposals, vote, and ask questions, and meeting minutes available to all members afterwards.
  • Independent organizing and communication outside union official structure: members should have the right to organize in independent committees and caucuses, publish rank-and-file newsletters and websites, and run candidates for union office, and union officers should encourage this.
  • Inclusion and equality: all members should be treated fairly, with the union fighting discrimination by management and among members. Union officers and representatives should reflect membership in terms of gender, race, language, craft
    A craft is a branch of a profession that requires some particular kind of skilled work. In historical sense, particularly as pertinent to the Medieval history and earlier, the term is usually applied towards people occupied in small-scale production of goods.-Development from the past until...

     or bargaining unit
    Bargaining unit
    A bargaining unit in labor relations is a group of employees with a clear and identifiable community of interests who are represented by a single labor union in collective bargaining and other dealings with management. Examples would be "non-management professors"; "law enforcement professionals";...

    , seniority
    Seniority is the concept of a person or group of people being in charge or in command of another person or group. This control is often granted to the senior person due to experience or length of service in a given position, but it is not uncommon for a senior person to have less experience or...

    , etc. Union contracts, constitution and bylaws, meetings, and publications should be accessible in the languages spoken by members.
  • Education for members: unions should train all interested members in legal rights and organizing, including how to participate effectively in the union and how to organize on the job.

While there are some superficial similarities to the so-called organizing model of union activity, advocates of union democracy are swift to point out that many of the alleged exemplars of the organizing model do not, in their internal structure, meet the requirements listed above.

External links

  • Association for Union Democracy ideologically-neutral U.S. union democracy organization
  • Labor Notes U.S. left-of-center union democracy publication
  • UE - The democratic rank-and-file labor union! U.S. labor union which (along with the ideologically-unique Industrial Workers of the World
    Industrial Workers of the World
    The Industrial Workers of the World is an international union. At its peak in 1923, the organization claimed some 100,000 members in good standing, and could marshal the support of perhaps 300,000 workers. Its membership declined dramatically after a 1924 split brought on by internal conflict...

    ) is considered a textbook example of union democracy
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