This article focuses on the most significant arguments regarding the lack of political autonomy among Greek trade unions since their emergence in the early twentieth century. The arguments that are underlined here are those about trade unions’ weakness in motivating working people and organizing a massive labour movement. Until now there has been a state centred approach to union studies which underlines the Greek government’s admittedly successful strategies to manipulate trade unions. The ‘state- centred’ analyses have certainly failed to see the movement’s fragmentation into two sections: one legal and one illegitimate. More specifically, they have failed to see that labour legislation was combined with laws that restricted political freedom to only those unions which had been subordinate to the state and therefore that it created a group of unions that, once declared illegal, could no longer constitute part of the movement’s official representation. In contrast to the state-centred approach, my society-centred approach shifts the focus of analysis from the official and legitimate trade union movement to those organizations that suffered governmental restraints, operating without legal protection. The article argues that the fact that the avant-garde of this section was in the hands of non-Greek nationals made the confrontation of these unions with the Greek state a critical event in the movement’s history. In other words, the fact that the autonomous trade union movement was not identified with the nationalist ideology embraced by the Greek state led to the imposition of legal measures against it.