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The most widely-quoted definition of a trade union is that by British labour historians and theoreticians Beatrice and Sidney Webb, from their book A History of Trade Unions , published in 1920. They define a trade union as "a continuous association of wage-earners for the purpose of maintaining and improving the conditions of their working lives". According to the Webbs, trade unions would maintain and improve working conditions by attempting to achieve a closed shop and through collective bargaining . Trade unions in Ireland, as in the United Kingdom, emerged around the time of the Industrial Revolution, although the origins of some craft unions (see below) may be traced back to medieval guilds. Other unions were formed in the nineteenth century, and the first Irish general union , the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union, was formed in 1909. The early trade unions in Ireland were not particularly well organised, and except for those in Dublin, were rarely permanent organisations. Workers' wages were not sufficient to allow them to maintain unions capable of surviving struggles with employers in the form of master-manufacturers, and the lack of a well-established apprenticeship system also militated against the formation of a strong trade union movement. In 1894 the Irish Trade Union Congress was formed (before then, and even after then for a time, Irish delegates attended the British TUC). The Irish trade union confederation is now the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) . Irish trade unions have some distinguishing features: first, the Irish movement contains a degree of cross-border trade unionism, in that a number of unions with members in this country are British-based (see amalgamated trade unions ); and, secondly, in order to be able to engage in collective bargaining, unions must hold a negotiating licence . The legal status of trade unions in Ireland is regulated by a number of statutes, including the Trade Union Acts 1871, 1913, 1941 and 1975, and the Industrial Relations Act 1990 . See trade union structure .

Please note: the European industrial relations glossaries were compiled between 1991 and 2003 and are not updated. For current material see the European industrial relations dictionary.

Page last updated: 14 August, 2009