labour movement

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labour movement A term applied descriptively to include all organizations representing workers who sell their effort in the labour-market. A labour movement may be divided heuristically into its industrial and political wings: the former consists of trade unions as well as other voluntary associations seeking narrowly defined economic objectives, such as higher wages, greater industrial democracy, or industrial education; the latter comprises one or more political parties attempting to influence or control state power on behalf of labour. Historically, labour movements have been very fragmented; there is a long-running theoretical debate about this because of the profound influence of Marxism and socialism within labour organizations. These have tended to view labour movements holistically, as embodying the organized working class or proletariat, thus implying an underlying momentum towards unity between the various elements. Even so, disagreement exists about revolutionary strategy, between syndicalist expectations of the working class seizing political control through organized industrial action alone, and the Leninist view that trade-union action must give way to political struggle. Students of the labour movement of a more conservative cast of mind have tended to reflect the outlook of Selig Perlman, a pioneer of labour-relations studies in the United States. Strongly influenced by the example of the American working class, Perlman claimed that labour movements embody what he called a communism of opportunity, expressing limited occupational and communal loyalties, rather than a communism of the intellectuals which sought to unify the whole working class. Certainly, in recent years, much greater attention has been given to the historical, cultural, and institutional diversity of the labour movements of different industrial societies (see M. Regini ( ed.) , The Future of Labour Movements, 1992

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