The structure of a trade union: How are they organized?
A trade union is normally a fairly large organization. This means that there needs to be a convenient way to organize it. While the exact structure may vary the do tend to follow a similar pattern. This has proven to be the best way of doing things since it makes it much easier to manage the membership in this way.
Trade unions can be structured in any number of ways and this will differ depending on the country and the industry that is involved. The most common type of unions are the ones that are formed to organize members from across an entire industry. The auto workers union is a good example of this; it covers people in a variety of different jobs across the industry. Other unions may target only members who are in a specific occupation, the teachers unions are an example of this. There are also some unions that will accept members from any occupation or industry.
In most cases the unions are divided into locals which deal with the employees in a certain area. Again this differs from one union to another. One may have a local that handles the employees at one factory and a different local that handles the members at the factory down the street. Or it may be that the local will handle all of the members in that city and possibly even state. The locals themselves are members of a national federation which usually are the ones that run the union. In most cases the national federation will be a part of an international that allows them to work with other similar unions in other countries.
In most cases unions are organized along democratic lines with elections being held to choose the leaders. Just how fair those elections are in some cases is open to dispute but virtually all unions have some sort of mechanism for holding elections. There are quite a few leadership positions available in a union from shop steward up to the head of the national federation. It would be impossible to explain exactly what all of these people do as there is so much variation from one union to the next.
One thing to keep in mind about unions, at least in places where they are legally allowed to exist, is that they are normally considered to be a separate legal entity. This means that the union is responsible for things like its debts rather than the members of the union. This is similar to what happens when a company is incorporated. This is an important distinction since it places the legal responsibility for what the union does on the union rather than the members offering protection for the workers from being held accountable for what the union does.