Manufacturing unions in merger talks

It was confirmed during November 1999 that two major trade unions with substantial memberships in manufacturing are currently engaged in talks about a possible merger which would create the UK's second-largest union.

On 16 November 1999, Roger Lyons, general secretary of the Manufacturing Science Finance (MSF) trade union announced plans for a merger with the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union (AEEU). With a combined membership of over 1 million (the AEEU reported some 720,000 members in 1998, the MSF some 430,000), the merged union would have a strong presence in manufacturing but would also represent workers in a range of other sectors including construction, energy supply, financial services and public services. Proposals for the new union follow a number of major union mergers over recent years (UK9705131N), most recently between three unions in the financial services sector to create UNIFI (UK9903193N). A merger between the AEEU and MSF would create the UK's second-largest union behind the public services union UNISON, which was itself formed when three unions merged in 1993.

The AEEU general secretary, Sir Ken Jackson, considers that "the combined strength of the new union would certainly give us greater influence with employers and government alike." According to the MSF, the new union would "reduce the administration costs of industrial relations, while improving the level of service available to members. There will be considerable benefits from the economies of scale for both sides of industry." The two unions have recently been working together in an "Alliance for Manufacturing" to preserve the UK's industrial base. This has involved joint conferences and other campaigning activities.

Discussions between the two unions have been taking place for some time, following the approval of merger talks by the AEEU conference in June 1999. Progress towards the merger was welcomed in November by MSF's executive committee. AEEU leaders were reported to view MSF's announcement of the merger plans as "premature", noting that a range of difficult issues remain to be resolved. It is expected that final proposals will be put to a membership ballot towards the end of 2000.

Under the statutory procedures which govern mergers between UK trade unions, there are two types of merger - a transfer of engagements, whereby one union's membership and assets are transferred to another, and an amalgamation which produces a completely new organisation. Approval of the proposed terms of a merger is required in a membership ballot. In a transfer of engagements, only the members of the transferring organisation vote on the issue. An amalgamation requires a favourable vote by the members of each amalgamating organisation. It is not yet clear whether the AEEU and MSF would amalgamate, or whether the latter would transfer its engagements to the former.

Some commentators suggest that the left wing within MSF may oppose a merger with the "moderate" AEEU, and that MSF members in the financial services sector may be unhappy at the focus on manufacturing which is likely to predominate within the merged union.

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