"Trade unions are organisations that represent people at work and are principally concerned with protecting its members in the employment relationship." (Salamon. 1987. 81) The function is to improve people's pay and conditions of employment and use their resources to lobby for laws and policies that will benefit the workers. The role consists of negotiation, representation, information and advice and member services. UNISON and the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) are two of the biggest unions in Britain and represent people working in different industries in the private and public sectors. http://www.bized.ac.uk/compfact/tuc/tuc5.htm .
The relationship between union members and employers is carried out by negotiation or collective bargaining. "Collective bargaining was invented by Beatrice Webb to illustrate the process of agreeing terms and conditions of employment through representatives of employers and employees." (Burchill, 1997. 91) Negotiations are carried out by union officials and shop stewards whose "prime responsibility is to represent members in dealings with their employers." (Burchill, 1997. 70).
The responsibility for union members is a complex and time served profession. Today's unions have many statute laws and procedures set out to protect its members. Getting to this level of protection was not without its restrictions, decline in membership, shop steward recognition and development and government intervention, being for the better or worse. It will be argued that through all of its difficulties and advancements, trade unionism along with collective bargaining and shop steward involvement, is still a viable source of protection for employees in the work force. .
A trade union can be defined as a "continuous association of wage earners for the purpose of improving the conditions of their working lives." (Webb. 1902.1 in Burchill, 1997. 36) The main contributories for joining a union are "collective reasons and individual benefits" and are similar in the service sector with "provision for support.