It is a simple thing to mistake the past and present, to rely on history to define the modern days. But time is fickle and men have often shaped it to different meanings. Union labor is no exception to this. It is not as it once was. It has instead become a new force for change and equality, refusing some of the less than noble intentions of its predecessors. Individuals must understand this to fully appreciate the importance of unions and all of their protections.
Established during the rise of the Byzantine Empire, union labor was originally titled ‘guilds’. These highly specialized groups were composed of the merchant classes and craftsmen. And, with only a quick glance, many may assume them to be similar to their successors. They’re not.
They were instead a series of secrets–each individual guild was created for a trade (whether it was carpentry, masonry or medicine). Within it masters and apprentices would work to improve their skills and also to guard them carefully. The purpose was not to aid all workers and fight against inequality. It was instead to secure only those few within the guild. Their abilities would be learned and then kept from the world, ensuring that they could never be replaced by others.
Guilds sought to defend against the nobility and even those less fortunate than themselves. They claimed their place within the social hierarchy and used their small groups to keep that claim.
This is not what modern unions do.
Instead they strive to help all individuals, charting out laws that will be heard across the country (and the world). They seek to end the struggles between employees and their managers–defining policy, wages and insurance. It’s a collective process and not a singular one.
And it is this difference that must be learned. Guilds were not for the masses. They were instead for the few. And, while the centuries called for such insular thinking, it no longer applies. Unions are not as they were. They are instead as they must be: a change for all of society.