Theory of Trade Unionism

Robert F. Hoxie was born in 1868. He was the Prof. of Economics at the University of Chicago. He was very much influenced by Veblen for which he became a tedious investigator and tireless hard-work researcher on economics, particularly on “The Theory of Trade Unionism”. He made a commendable contribution to the development of the theory of trade unionism though he had spent a short span of life in his career due to ill heath and workaholic passion. Some of his great contributions that we have today are- “Scientific Management and Labour” (1915), and “Trade Unionism in the United States” (1917). The Latter book was published posthumously from the notes he had preserved. He died in 1916.

Hoxie’s Functional Classification of Trade Unions

Robert mainly describes about the establishment of the idea of functional types of trade unions among the labour organization and to find out the principal types existing in this country.  According to him, workers striving to improve their economical and social condition, who are basically divergent in temperament and training, have high propensity to bring changes in a common interpretation of the social situation and a common solution to the problems they are facing with. Therefore, for him Unionism is not only an external body having a similar tastes or opinions. In other words, they are subject to environmental phenomenon and temperamental characteristics. To have clear cut idea about the nature of Unionism we need to take consideration of both the elements. Hence, closely associated workers develop their own group psychology which is the outcome of its environmental conditions and the temperamental characteristics of its members. The nature of differences in group psychology promotes appearance of variant unions. Thus, the psychological differences of labour community lead to the formation of workers into unions.

  The formation of union is based on a set of agreed aims, polices and methods which distinguish a union or a set of unions from others and diagnose the social situation differently. Hoxie mentions different categories of union on the basis of their structure and functional operation. Yet, he also had opined that organizational types of union such as craft unions and industrial unions do not support to understand the nature and purpose of unions i.e. their functional aspects. Let us look at some of the types of unions that he classified-

  1. Business unionism.
  2. Friendly or uplift unionism
  3. Revolutionary unionism
  4. Predatory Unionism
  5. Dependent unionism

Business Unionism

The most common type of union is Business Unionism. It is a form of labour organization that gave importance to trade-conscious rather than to class conscious. The purpose of such union is to improvise wages, shorten the working hours and their conditions. It gives least importance to political and social action, unless their economic goals are addressed for improvement. It is visualized on the line of conservatism due to its acceptance of the existing capitalistic organization and wage system.  It is only through collective bargaining that promotes the accomplishment of their goals. The weapon of strikes and resort to political action are sought only when their interests have been served. Otherwise, it uses the method of collective bargaining, favours voluntary arbitration, depreciates strikes and avoids political actions.

Friendly or uplift unionism

The uplift unionism is idealistic in nature. It encourages to raising the moral intellectual and social life of the workers and their contribution to a better life in terms of personal dignity, leisure and culture, security and better living standards. The preference of these unions rely on the weapons of political action, mutual insurance programme and cooperative enterprises. It is conservative and law abiding and employs the methods of collective bargaining. It has a strong learning towards cooperatives, profit sharing, political action and group insurance.

Revolutionary Unionism

It is extremely radical in theory and action. It bases distinctively on class-conscious by giving least importance to trade conscious. Revolutionary Unionism has one central theme: the complete harmony of interests of all workers, regardless of differences in skills or living standards, and the opposition of these interests to the interests of their employers. Its objective is to unite all workingmen into a single, unified and fighting organization. Therefore, according to him the private ownership of productive resources and the wage system should be rejected. The political action or direct action in the form of violence and general strikes are its chief weapons. It targets to overthrow the capitalistic system. Union becomes an economic wing to an overall political programme. It negotiates with employers only as a temporary profit looking towards revolution. It holds the support of political action, strikes, boycotts, Sabotage and Violence.

Hoxie distinctively mentions two kinds of revolutionary Unionism. They are Socialistic Unionism and Quasi anarchistic Unionism.

  1. Socialistic Unionism advocates the replacement of capitalist system with socialistic system. Socialistic system can be achieved through political action and the formation of socialistic state is because of the end result of union activity. Therefore, Unionism and Socialism are two wings of the same movement. At the same time, the method of collective bargaining is encouraged to improvise the conditions of workers urging them (working class) to withstand with their main objectives.
  2. The Quasi-Anarchistic upholds that socialism is another form of oppression in the society. Because the main motive of this form of union is to organize a society based on free industrial associations. It deliberately encourages the usage of violence frequently.

Predatory Unionism

This kind of union does not generate any pre-planned ideology. It lacks certain principle and mostly concentrates on short-run objectives. It can adopt any method which may deliver the goods and it sticks at nothing. Sometimes it operates by means of bribes, extortion, the sale of protection and monopoly combinations with employers. Its distinguishing characteristic is the ruthless pursuit of the matter in hand by whatever means seem most appropriate at the time, regardless of ethical and legal codes or effect upon those outside its own membership. It is generally boss-ridden and corrupt, the membership for the most part being content to follow blindly the instructions of the leaders so long as they receive occasional wage increases. It often joins with the employer to squeeze out competition for the mutual benefit of both the parties.

Dependent Unionism

According to Hoxie, this kind of unionism is completely parasitic in nature. Its existence is due to the support of the employers. It exists in two forms. One is that of Company Unionism which depends solely on the employer for its growth and development and does not serve the interest of the workers unless they oppose to the interest of the management. And second is that of the others Union Label. It depends upon the union label being imprinted on the products made by the union members. It is supposed to encourage greater sales and make it necessary for employers to hire union workers.


From the above discussion we learn two types of organizations, structural Union and functional union, that had emerged and evidently proved to be effective in the history of American Unionism. It began out of American experience to solve prevalent problems through experimental, opportunistic and pragmatic methods. American workers concentrated on immediate resolution to the solving problems. They had no long run revolutionary goals. From the analysis of functional types of union Hoxie concluded that Union is not a unified and consistent entity rather unionism is at the bottom non-unitary. He predicted that due to the rise of union power, collective bargaining would develop into a form of industrial democracy and bring an end to the profit making system.