news analysis - union mergers
WORKERS, MARCH 2004 ISSUE
The Iron and Steel Trades Confederation (33,000 members) is to merge with the Knitwear, Footwear and Apparel Trades (12,000 members). Although the unions have healthy bank accounts, the merger reflects the decimation of manufacturing industry.
Other mergers are in the pipeline. AMICUS, formed by the merger of AEEU and MSF, looks set to mop up the Graphic, Print and Media Union. Again the decline of manufacture is the root, with job losses running at double the rate per week of the worst Thatcher years. How long before Amicus casts its eye on the steel and knitwear merger and gobbles them up?
AMICUS would also like to grow by mopping up a number of professional health groupings and off-shoots of white collar civil service sections. Both UNISON and AMICUS are making approaches to the First Division Association of civil servants over a possible merger or joint partnership working. The UNISON partnership proposal is targeting the 65,000 non-unionised health and related managers earning over £35,000 a year. The FDA cannot survive without a substantial cash input. UNISON can't recruit health managers. Is this a principled approach or a business exercise?
Both the rail unions and the TGWU are vulnerable. The GMB is also struggling with financial difficulties and is selling off share investments and property. Could a merger be the solution? And who is eyeing the Fire Brigades Union?
UNISON is talking with PCS - the recently merged civil service union. The agenda is apparently to look at common areas of working and prevent demarcation disputes as civil service jobs are devolved into traditional local government and health areas. This a reflection of how regionalisation works as Britain's traditional structures are broken down under EU dictat. In real terms it offers yet another mega-merger union, dominated by the ultra-left with little or no participation by the members.
The impact of EU regionalisation on Britain's traditional structures will muddy the functions and boundaries of central and local authorities. This may be mirrored in the unions which could become regionalised themselves. Although UNISON espouses the anti-EU line, at the same time it is also rushing into devolution and regionalisation, desperate to grasp every crumb on offer from the EU. The result of jumping on the regionalisation gravy train could be at best be a federated union and at worst a splintered one.
The re-alignment of trade union groupings, especially the moving away from traditional industrial roots by manufacturing unions, is not a sign of health. The trade unions are re-aligning on the EU trade union model -- one industry, one union, an unhealthy situation which reflects the lack of struggle among workers to protect their industries.