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The most common purpose of these associations or unions is "maintaining or improving the conditions of their employment".
This may include the negotiation of wages, work rules, complaint procedures, rules governing hiring, firing and promotion of workers, benefits, workplace safety and policies.
Trade unions and collective bargaining were outlawed from no later than the middle of the 14th century when the Ordinance of Labourers was enacted in the Kingdom of England.
The origins of trade unions can be traced back to 18th century Britain, where the rapid expansion of industrial society then taking place, drew women, children, rural workers and immigrants into the work force in large numbers and in new roles.
In 1799, the Combination Act was passed, which banned trade unions and collective bargaining by British workers.
Although the unions were subject to often severe repression until 1824, they were already widespread in cities such as London.
In The Wealth of Nations, Book I, chapter 8, Smith wrote: We rarely hear, it has been said, of the combination of masters, though frequently of those of workmen.
But whoever imagines, upon this account, that masters rarely combine, is as ignorant of the world as of the subject.