A trade union is an organization of employees formed on a continuous basis for the purpose of securing diverse range of benefits. It is a continuous association of wage earners for the purpose of maintaining and improving the conditions of their working lives.
The Trade Union Act 1926 defines a trade union as a combination, whether temporary or permanent, formed primarily for the purpose of regulating the relations between workmen and employers or between workmen and workmen, or between employers and employers, or for imposing restrictive condition on the conduct of any trade or business, and includes any federation of two or more trade unions.

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This definition is very exhaustive as it includes associations of both the workers and employers and the federations of their associations. Here, the relationships that have been talked about are both temporary and permanent.
This means it applies to temporary workers (or contractual employees) as well. Then this definition, primarily, talks about three relationships. They are the relationships between the:

  • workmen and workmen,
  • workmen and employers, and
  • employers and employers.

Thus, a trade union can be seen as a group of employees in a particular sector, whose aim is to negotiate with employers over pay, job security, working hours, etc, using the collective power of its members. In general, a union is there to represent the interests of its members, and may even engage in political activity where legislation affects their members. Trade unions are voluntary associations formed for the pursuit of protecting the common interests of its members and also promote welfare. They protect the economic, political and social interests of their members.

Features of trade unions:

  1. It is an association either of employers or employees or of independent workers. They may consist of :-
    • Employers’ association (eg., Employer’s Federation of India, Indian paper mill association, etc.)
    • General labor unions
    • Friendly societies
    • Unions of intellectual labor (eg, All India Teachers Association)
  2. It is formed on a continuous basis. It is a permanent body and not a casual or temporary one. They persist throughout the year.
  3. It is formed to protect and promote all kinds of interests –economic, political and social-of its members. The dominant interest with which a union is concerned is, however, economic.
  4. It achieves its objectives through collective action and group effort. Negotiations and collective bargaining are the tools for accomplishing objectives.
  5. Trade unions have shown remarkable progress since their inception; moreover, the character of trade unions has also been changing. In spite of only focusing on the economic benefits of workers, the trade unions are also working towards raising the status of labors as a part of industry.