Three unions plan merger

In October 2002, three trade unions affiliated to the Confederation of Danish Trade Unions (LO) agreed to take the first joint step towards a merger. The proposed merger of the General Workers' Union (SiD), the Union of Female Workers (KAD), and the Union of Wood, Industrial and Building Workers (TIB) would create Denmark's largest union with about 470,000 members. This would amount to around a third of LO members, and the confederation would risk losing influence if the merged union were established.

Since the summer of 2002, three trade unions affiliated to the Confederation of Danish Trade Unions (Landsorganisationen i Danmark, LO) have been discussing a merger which – if implemented – will create the largest union in Denmark with about 470,000 members. The current largest union, the Union of Commercial and Clerical Workers in Denmark (Handels- og kontorforbundet, HK), has 370,000 members.

The process started in spring 2002 with a meeting between the presidents of the General Workers’ Union (Specialarbejderforbundet i Danmark, SiD) and the Union of Female Workers (Kvindeligt Arbejderforbund, KAD) to discuss a possible merger. The Union of Wood, Industrial and Building Workers (Træ-Industri-Byg, TIB) later joined the discussions. At a joint executive meeting at the end of October 2002, it was decided to go ahead with the merger plans, which will now enter a decisive phase. It has been decided that a merger may take place in the course of 2004. This will be preceded by a comprehensive information campaign - for this purpose it was decided to set up a new common website- prior to membership ballots

SiD is LO's second-largest affiliated union with 320,000 members, while KAD has 81,000 members and TIB 68,000. TIB's members are carpenters, joiners, building workers and wood industry workers, with a mix of skilled and unskilled workers, while the two other unions represent unskilled workers, and the original 'entente' was due to the fact that the members of SiD and KAD often work side by side and that SiD already has about 65,000 female members. A joint union would unite groups such as general labourers, bus drivers, cleaning staff, dairy workers, postal workers and joiners and carpenters under the same organisation and would – under the present set-up – be the largest affiliate of LO.

Major benefits from merger

The leaders of the three unions point to the operational benefits of a merger, including in particular the improved services to members and the reduced union fees which could result from the creation of such a large union. However, before this result may be achieved, the proposed merger may, paradoxically, lead to dismissals if all the local branches of the three unions are merged into a new structure. SiD has 295 local union offices while KAD has 51 and TIB 31 local units. In addition, there are the three union headquarters and some district offices. Both SiD and KAD have the same number of employees – just over 400 persons in each organisation – despite large differences in the number of members. However, for both KAD and TIB it is becoming increasingly difficult financially to maintain representation in all parts of the country. A merger with the well represented SiD would lead to obvious local advantages.

Furthermore, it is of decisive importance for TIB that two employers' organisations, the Danish Contractors’ Association (Danske Entreprenører) and the Danish Building Employers Confederation (Byggeriets Arbejdsgivere, BYG), will from 1 January 2003 merge into a single organisation, the Association of Employers in the Danish Building Industry (Dansk Byggeri). The top leadership of TIB is strongly in favour of a cartel of industrial unions which could obtain the same massive influence on the union side as the Confederation of Danish Industries (Dansk Industri, DI) has on the employer side.

Commentary

KAD was set up in 1901 as a trade union exclusively for female workers because SiD refused to admit female workers (DK9710134F). Ironically, this may indirectly mean that the SiD/KAD/TIB merger might perhaps not be realised. The decisive factor – the support of the members – is the most difficult hurdle to overcome for the union leaders who are in favour of a merger. Membership ballots will take place in 2004 and a website has been established as part of a major information campaign to members about the advantages of a merger. This will surely not be an easy task. Several recent union merger plans which were warmly recommended by the unions' top leaders failed completely in the first ballots. This was the case in 2001 with the proposed mergers between the Danish Federation of Early Childhood Teachers and Youth Educators (Børne- og ungdomspædagogernes Landsforbund, BUPL) and the National Union of Nursery and Childcare Assistants (Pædagodmedhjælpernes Forbund, PMF) (DK0111102N), and between the Danish Metalworkers’ Union (Dansk Metal) and the Danish Union of Electricians (Dansk El-Forbund) (DK0110101N). The decisive factors were professional identity and security. Skilled workers are eager to protect their professional standards and the members of small unions are afraid of disappearing in a merger with larger unions.

Some members of KAD have already voiced criticism of the merger plan in the media because they find that their distance from the top leadership of their union is already too great. It is likely that members would see these problems as potentially being exacerbated in a larger merged union. It is also very likely that the skilled joiners and carpenters in the furniture and wood industry represented by TIB may find it difficult to see themselves in a union with unskilled postal workers, drivers and cleaning staff.

Another problem in connection with the merger is that is probably too big. The new union would include one in three members of the unions affiliated to LO. A union of this size might not have a need for the services of LO, which would risk being seen as a secretariat without any real functions. This would be a very serious challenge for LO, but one which it may be able to meet. Neither LO, labour market researchers nor union leaders believe that there will still be 20 member organisations of LO in about 10 years’ time – despite the present opposition from the members. About half of this number will probably be a more realistic figure and the merger of SiD, TIB and KAD may turn out to the first step in this direction. (Carsten Jørgensen, FAOS)

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