Merger moves among blue-collar unions

In January 2002, the Swedish Municipal Workers' Union, the largest affiliate of the LO blue-collar trade union confederation, merged with the much smaller Agricultural Workers' Union. Several other mergers are under consideration among LO member unions. Three unions representing electricians, graphical workers and service and communication workers are moving towards a probable merger, while unions representing transport and commerce workers started examining the issue in late 2001.

On 1 January 2002, the 11,000-strong Agricultural Workers' Union (Lantarbetareförbundet) joined the Swedish Municipal Workers' Union (Svenska Kommunalarbetareförbundet, Kommunal), the largest affiliate of the blue-collar Swedish Confederation of Trade Unions (Landsorganisationen, LO) with around 600,000 members. Some 80% of Kommunal's members are women, and 65% of members are part-time workers. The largest group of members works in the healthcare sector for the municipalities and county councils as nurses, ward orderlies and other personnel. Other occupations represented in Kommunal include childcare workers, firefighters, cemetery workers, bus drivers, cleaners, and parks and sports grounds attendants.

This latter group seems to complement the occupations of the members of the former Agricultural Workers' Union, who are to be found throughout the countryside and cities in agriculture, gardening, animal care and on golf courses. This merger was, however, unsuccessfully called into question by some parties on grounds of differences in occupation and interests among the two unions' members. The reasons for the merger are clearly financial on the part of the former Agricultural Workers' Union. For example, its ex-members will pay about SEK 100 less in monthly membership fees, as administrative costs in Kommunal are lower.

Several further mergers may be in the pipeline between LO-affiliated unions. The boards of the Graphical Workers' Union (Grafiska Förbundet Mediafacket, GF), the Electricians' Union (Elektrikerförbundet, SEF) and the Union for Service and Communication Employees (Facket för Service och Kommunikation, Seko) have been discussing a possible merger for around a year. They plan to release a proposal for a merger process in spring 2002. Seko is the largest union of the three, with some 180,000 members. It used to organise only central government employees, such as workers in postal, railway, road and telecommunications services. However, over the years Seko has also recruited service workers in information and communication technologies, aviation and shipping, and energy . More than 50% of Seko members are now employed in the private sector, partly as a result of the privatisation of public services in the 1980s and 1990s. GF has around 30,000 workers in the graphical sector, the media and information services. SEF has about 25,000 members working as electricians mostly in the private sector, employed by electrical companies in many branches of industry. The arguments in favour of a merger cited by the three trade unions include: seeking stronger collective agreements; financial benefits for members; and a 'natural' coming together of service employees working in different branches but with similar tasks.

A second possible merger concerns the Commercial Employees' Union (Handelsanställdas förbund, Handels) and the Transport Workers' Union (Transportarbetareförbundet, Transport). Handels organises workers in shops, department stores and warehouses, while Transport's members are largely taxi drivers, lorry drivers and bus drivers. At Handels' congress in late autumn 2001, its re-elected chair, Ninel Jansson, was commissioned to continue talks with Transport over a possible merger.

Since the collapse in late 2001 of the so-called 'TRIO-project' to merge four white-collar workers' unions, mostly affiliated to the Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees (Tjänstemännens Centralorganisation, TCO), there are no current plans for mergers involving white-collar unions (SE0201111N).

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