Subject Material

Work and Trade Unions (Easy)

Published: 06.01.2011, Updated: 04.03.2017

In general, workers in America have not been as engaged in trade unions as Europeans. Why do you think this is so?

The Development of the Trade Unions

Woman with protest sign. Photo.Labor conflict  Trade unions have existed in the US since the end of the 18th century even though many people have been sceptical about them. Unions grew during the Depression in the 1930’s and during the years around the Second World War in the 1940's.

No Interference

Membership dropped in the second half of the last century due to the growth of the service sector and the decline of manufacturing industries, where the unions were strongest. More importantly, Americans do not like any interference in personal matters such as career choice and movement. This inlcudes things like negotiating salary, benefits, working hours and job description.

Restless Workers

While Europeans often stay in the same job for their entire working lifetime, Americans are restless, and change jobs often. Those who change jobs often are looking for more excitement and more challenge. They are interested in improving their career opportunities. Moving across the country for a new job opportunity is not uncommon.

Different Opinions

Not all Americans agree on the need for trade unions. Some people agree that union membership gives the workers a chance to be heard and to improve conditions, while others reject them for slowing down business and personal profit. Only 12.4% of the labor force are union members.


  1. When was the greatest period of growth for American unions?
  2. Why did membership drop in the last half of the 20th century?
  3. What percentage of the labor force are union members today?


Would you consider joining a union and why?


Use the dictionary to translate the words and phrases below into Norwegian.

Then, sit in pairs and formulate questions and answers using the words and phrases.

  1. Trade unions
  2. Sceptical
  3. The Depression
  4. Membership
  5. Manufacturing
  6. Negotiating
  7. Benefits
  8. To reject
  9. Profit
  10. Labor force


Do some research on the Internet using the following words: census bureau, labor union, statistics . (The Census Bureau is like 'Statistisk Sentralbyrå' in the USA.)

Paste some of your findings into a text document and add titles and comments so that an average Norwegian student may understand what it is all about. If you do an image search, you may want to search for file extensions such as *.png, *. swf or *.pdf as they often offer high quality graphics.

Using screen capture software or the  'print screen' button on your keyboard, you may zoom in on certain parts of tables or charts.

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