Smaller LO member unions demand more influence

Prior to the congress of the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) in autumn 1999, several smaller member unions are demanding more influence in the executive committee. Presently, only 13 of LO's 22 affiliated national unions are represented on the executive.

Only 13 of the 22 national affiliated trade unions of the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (Landsforeningen i Danmark, LO) are represented on LO's executive committee. Kirsten Nissen, president of the Union of Socio-Educational Workers (Socialpædagogernes Landsforbund, SL), which does not have an executive committee seat, wants to change this state of affairs. At the LO congress in October 1999, she will propose that the present executive committee is extended to create a central board with representation from all 22 national unions.

The idea is to bring more democracy to the trade union movement and ensure that the voices of the smaller unions are heard. The proposal is supported by the Union of Nursery and Childcare Assistants (Pædagoisk Medhjælper Forbund, PMF), which is also not a member of the executive committee. According to Jakob Bang of PMF, the small member unions in reality come close to the decision-making process in LO only at the yearly meeting of elected delegates.

Up until now, the top-level policies and strategies of LO have been determined by the executive committee. The proposal by the smaller unions has been noted, and as a result a new structure for the leadership of LO is currently under consideration. According to the Aktuelt, LO is seeking to establish a new body with all 22 national unions represented. At the same time, it is suggested that the number of members of the executive committee should be cut from the present 21 to seven. This new executive committee could consist of the president and vice-president of LO and the presidents of the five largest affiliated unions. These five unions - the Union of Commercial and Clerical Employees (Handels- og Kontorfunktionærernes Forbund, HK), the General Workers' Union (Specialarbejderforbundet, SiD), the Union of Public Employees (Forbundet af Offentlige Ansatte, FOA), the National Union of Metalworkers (Dansk Metalarbejderforbund) and the National Union of Women Workers (Kvindeligt Arbejderforbund i Danmark, KAD) - between them make up 1.1 million of the total 1.48 million members of LO.

PMF and SL reject this solution, stating that the proposed new large central board with representatives of all 22 unions will not have substantial authority, and that the new slimmer executive committee will decide the ongoing policy and strategy of LO. PMF and SL can contemplate a slimmer executive committee taking care of daily affairs, but only if the new central board has real authority over economic and political initiatives and thus deals with top-level policy. For both PMF and SL, it is vital that the proposed solution gives real authority to the new central board - there will be no increased democracy in the trade union movement if an executive committee representing a minority of unions still controls top-level policy.

One of the questions which the discussion raises is whether the principle of "one union, one vote" should apply in the future. It will be difficult to make the large unions accept the application of this principle in an extended board structure, and they believe that votes should be weighted. While the larger unions have several hundred thousand members each, other unions have as few as 1,300 members. SL does not have a problem with the idea that the votes of larger unions should have greater weight, since they pay a much higher subscription than the smaller unions. The president of one of the latter, the Danish Hairdressers' and Beauticians' Union (Dansk Frisør og Kosmetikerforbund), doubts that a new central board with representation of all LO unions would be efficient, stating that the important issue is that the structure should make it possible to come to decisions.

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