International comparisons of trade unions Unions have been compared across countries by growth and decline patterns, by violence levels, and by kinds of political activity.
Union density by country
The following is a comparison of union density
countries. Note that this is normally lower than the rate of collective bargaining coverage
(for example, France
reported a union density of 9% in 2014, while collective bargaining covered 98.5% of workers in the same year).
Trade union density in OECD countries
Union growth and decline comparisons
In the mid-1950s, 36% of the United States labor force was unionized. At America's union peak in the 1950s, union membership was lower in the United States than in most comparable countries. By 1989, that figure had dropped to about 16%, the lowest percentage of any developed democracy, except France
. Union membership for other developed democracies, in 1986/87 were:
In 1987, United States unionization was 37 points below the average of seventeen countries surveyed, down from 17 points below average in 1970.
Between 1970 and 1987, union membership declined in only three other countries: Austria, by 3%, Japan
, by 7%, and the Netherlands
, by 4%. In the United States, union membership had declined by 14%.
In 2008, 12.4% of U.S. wage and salary workers were union members. 36.8% of public sector workers were union members, but only 7.6% of workers in private sector industries were.
The most unionized sectors of the economy have had the greatest decline in union membership. From 1953 to the late 1980s membership in construction fell from 84% to 22%, manufacturing from 42% to 25%, mining from 65% to 15%, and transportation from 80% to 37%.
From 1971 to the late 1980s, there was a 10% drop in union membership in the U.S. public sector and a 42% drop in union membership in the U.S. private sector.
For comparison, there was no drop in union membership in the private sector in Sweden. In other countries drops included: 
- 2% in Canada,
- 3% in Norway,
- 6% in West Germany,
- 7% in Switzerland,
- 9% in Austria,
- 14% in the United Kingdom,
- 15% in Italy.
A CGT banner during a 2005 demonstration in Paris
It is the largest in terms of votes (32.1% at the 2002 professional election, 34.0% in the 2008 election), and second largest in terms of membership numbers.
According to the historian M. Dreyfus, the direction of the CGT is slowly evolving, since the 1990s, during which it cut all organic links with the Communist Party, in favour of a more moderate stance. The CGT is concentrating its attention, in particular since the 1995 general strikes
, to trade-unionism in the private sector.
Labour unions emerged in Japan in the second half of the Meiji period
, after 1890, as the country underwent a period of rapid industrialization.
Until 1945, however, the labour movement remained weak, impeded by lack of legal rights, anti-union
legislation, management-organized factory councils, and political divisions between “cooperative” and radical unionists.
In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, the US Occupation
authorities initially encouraged the formation of independent unions.
Legislation was passed that enshrined the right to organize, and membership rapidly rose to 5 million by February 1947. The organization rate peaked at 55.8% of all workers in 1949
and subsequently declined to 18.5% as of 2010.
The labour movement went through a process of reorganization from 1987 to 1991
from which emerged the present configuration of three major labour union federations, along with other smaller national union organizations.
The unionization rate in the U.S. and Canada followed fairly similar paths from 1920 to the mid-1960s; both peaked at about 30%. However the U.S. rate declined steadily after 1974 to 12% in 2011. Meanwhile, the Canadian rate dropped from 37% the mid-1980s to 30% in 2010. Part of the reason is the different mixture of industry, and part is due to more favourable Canadian laws.
In 1937 there were 4,740 strikes in the United States.
This was the greatest strike wave in American labor history
. The number of major strikes and lockouts in the U.S. fell by 97% from 381 in 1970 to 187 in 1980 to only 11 in 2010. Companies countered the threat of a strike by threatening to close or move a plant.
Costa Rican agricultural unions demonstration, January 2011
Labor unions first developed in Costa Rica
in the late 1880s.
The first unions were organized with the help of the Catholic Church
By 1913, the first International Workers Day was celebrated and unions, supported in particular by the Popular Vanguard Party
pushed for Alfredo González Flores
' tax reforms. Unions grew in number and coverage. A major historical event for Costa Rican labor was the 1934 United Fruit Company
, a national strike involving more than 30 unions which ended with many labor leaders imprisoned.
Head of state Teodoro Picado Michalski
violently repressed union leaders, leading to the tensions that created the 1948 Costa Rican Civil War
Labor unions continued to grow, supported by the Catholic church, and the first collective bargaining
agreement was reached in 1967. Óscar Arias
fought fiercely to dissolve and reduce the power of private sector unions in the 1980s.
Arias' austerity measures led to a period of increased labor activity as poverty and unemployment increased.
Despite the resurgence, unions, particularly in the private sector, still faced opposition and repression.
During the 2007 Central American Free Trade Agreementreferendum
, labor unions unsuccessfully organized to encourage its rejection. 
They received a boost in political influence when Luis Guillermo Solís
and his Citizens' Action Party
earned the Presidency and several seats in the Legislative Assembly
Labor unions are active in both the public and private sectors. Major concerns include salaries increased to reflect inflation
, regulation of public commodities, and a stronger Caja Costarricense del Seguro Social
(Costa Rican Social Security Department). Many labor unions are also asking for increased environmental regulation,
and increased oversight of cooperative banks.
One important issue for Costa Rica unions is passage a new labor law.
Former president Laura Chinchilla
vetoed it, but Solís appears to want the issue passed, as do many members of the Legislative Assembly.
Economists have explored the linkage between unionization and levels of overall GDP growth and unemployment, especially in light of the high unemployment in Europe since the 1980s and the stagnation in growth rates. On both the theoretical and the empirical sides, experts have not reached any consensus.
Violence in labor disputes
Between 1877 and 1968, 700 people have been killed in American labor disputes.
In the 1890s, roughly two American workers were killed and 140 injured for every 100,000 strikers. In France, three French workers were injured for every 100,000 strikers. In the 1890s, only 70 French strikers were arrested per 100,000. For the United States, national arrest rates are simply impossible to compile. In Illinois, the arrest rate for the latter half of the 1890s decade was at least 700 per 100,000 strikers, or ten times that of France; in New York for that decade it was at least 400.
Between 1902 and 1904 in America , at least 198 people were killed, 1,966 workers were injured. One worker was killed and 1,009 were injured for every 100,000 strikers.
Between 1877 and 1968, American state and federal troops intervened in labor disputes more than 160 times, almost invariably on behalf of employers.
Business was disrupted, usually by strikes, on 22,793 occasions between 1875 and 1900.
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Last edited on 23 February 2021, at 03:32
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