I'm a non-native speaker active in a labor union that does not use English internally. The union has a representative assembly (made up of representatives of branches), whose existence is mandated by our by-laws/statutes, with all sorts of functions and procedures. Which of the following shall I refer to the assembly as? What is the difference between them?

  • a body of the union
  • an organ of the union
  • an institution of/within the union
  • 2
    This figurative use of organ usually refers to a written publication - for example, a quarterly newsletter might feasibly be refered to as the unions's organ. Your internal division would more likely be called a sub-committee, or perhaps a department. Unions are both ideologically and literally integral entities, so I think it's stretching the metaphor a bit too far to have one contain a (by implication, autonomous) body. Dec 31, 2011 at 15:21
  • Please clarify what "it" (in "refer to it as") refers to. Do you mean the union, or your local (your branch), or the by-laws, or the assembly? Dec 31, 2011 at 16:14

2 Answers 2


Organ brings to mind something biological, or organic despite it's literal definition as a functioning part of a system.

An institution of the union could technically work.

A body of the union seems to fit the most out of the three, but leans towards ambiguity since body is used for so many other things. You might have to use another word in addition as in governing body.

In English, it might be best to simply use branch. The American Government uses the term branch to describe the separation and balance of power between three parts. The catch is that sometimes branch is synonymous with stand-alone location, or chapter, as many unions have.

In short, body, institution, and branch seem to do the job, organ will not.

I hope I'm going in the right direction with this. If not, I'd be happy to revise this answer.

  • Body seems to be used with unions, at least in the US, no idea about elsewhere. Interestingly enough, Organ seems to be used heavily in former Soviet, as well as Chinese, trade unions, appearing largely in Cold War era documents from Soviet states and in history books written about the trade unions since the fall.
    – Phoenix
    Dec 31, 2011 at 11:41
  • It can't be a branch. The parliament is not a branch of government - the legislative is; the cabinet is not a branch, the executive is. IIANM.
    – einpoklum
    Dec 31, 2011 at 17:47

I'm not quite sure what is wrong with simply calling it the union's 'representative assembly'. That seems to describe it perfectly, but you could certainly say that the assembly was one of the institutions of the union.

I'd stay well away from 'organ'; it's too associated with the old soviet block, as Phoenix has already said, and at least in Britain, the word is used a lot in satire. And 'branch' won't do, for reasons given by Eyal Rozenberg. Also, a union already has local branches at workplace or city level (as hinted at in the question), that's the real reason 'branch' wouldn't be appropriate.

The same would go for 'division'; a division is one of several, usually roughly equal, parts. the union could have a separate division for each industry, for example. But this assembly is a central institution.

  • Can you give an example of satirical use of 'organ'? Is the satire specific to unions or is it just about a, umm, shall we say, specific organ of the human body?
    – einpoklum
    Aug 13, 2012 at 11:09

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