Women's trade union fights for its independent status

Although the KAD trade union is a constructive participant in the sector-oriented cartel structure of the LO confederation, it wishes to maintain its independent status as a trade union for women, and will seek to do so by ensuring closer cooperation with other unions. At KAD's September 1997 congress, a number of questions were raised, particularly relating to its struggle to retain its membership.

The National Union of Female Workers (Kvindeligt Arbejderforbund i Danmark, KAD) is the only purely female trade union in the world and a relatively large affiliate of the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (Landsorganisationen i Danmark, LO), representing 90,000 workers across the public and private sectors. With the development of the six sector-oriented LO cartels, each playing a central role in collective bargaining, KAD's future role as an independent trade union for female workers is gradually being eroded. Whereas KAD directly conducts bargaining in the private services sector, more general bargaining on behalf of its members in the public sector and within industry is conducted via LO cartels.

At its congress on 29 September 1997, KAD reaffirmed that it will continue to be a constructive participant in the development of LO cartels. KAD recognises that improved cooperation between trade unions is necessary in order to respond to all the changes that are taking place within employers' ranks.

However, KAD wants to maintain its independence and its long-standing tradition of organising female workers across sectors. Throughout Danish trade union history, KAD has safeguarded the interests of women in terms of collective bargaining and has championed the cause of women in the political arena. KAD wants to maintain this role and fears that the continuing organisational changes in the Danish trade union movement may result in KAD losing its function as an independent trade union, and being unable to advance the interests of woman to the extent that it would like.

Invitation to cooperation

In order to preserve its independent status, KAD seeks to effect closer cooperation with other LO affiliates. KAD recognises that, even though it is a relatively large trade union, it can still be difficult to undertake everything it would like, given the challenges that the trade union movement is faced with in a modern society. If members are to be given a high level of service, it might be necessary to cooperate more closely with other unions. In her congress address, the vice-president of KAD, Jane Korczak, suggested that other unions should be invited to cooperate more with KAD: "local trade union offices in sparsely populated areas could be used by members from other trade unions, since the smaller trade unions often only have offices in the larger cities ... there should also be more inter-union cooperation in political and information campaigns."

The new forms of cooperation will at first be informal and locally based. It is hoped that this will do away with unnecessary duplication, and hence use available resources more efficiently. KAD has lost 1,800 members within the last three years and recognises that membership fees might have had a part to play in this decline. KAD believes that if it were to raise membership fees, it would result in a negative reaction from its members and therefore it is seeking to improve its service to its members by more inter-union cooperation and thus avoid the need to raise fees.

Closer cooperation with the General Workers Union in Denmark (Specialarbejderforbundet i Danmark, SiD), possibly leading to an eventual merger, has been considered before, but this option is no longer on the agenda. The cultural difference between the two trade unions does not allow for cooperation outside the scope of collective bargaining within LO cartels.

Flexible working time

An example of the cultural difference existing between KAD and other trade unions can be illustrated by their different attitudes toward flexible working time. In September 1997, with a view to the 1998 collective bargaining round, the president of the National Union of Metalworkers (Dansk Metal), Max Bæring, told the union's congress (DK9709130N) that he was positive about making provisions for working time to be made more flexible in collective agreements, as were the employers. At the KAD congress, warnings were given against expanding the provisions for flexible working time even further, since experience has shown that, to a large extent, employees may choose longer working hours if they wish to build up longer periods of time off in lieu. This can result in a working day of up to 12 hours and a working week of as much as 60 hours. In such cases, as was argued at the congress, in the long run it would be the family and the personal health of employees which would be the loser.

The president of KAD, Lillian Knudsen said that, although the union will not oppose any discussion on flexible working time, women will demand that special attention and consideration is given to family life and the quality of the working environment. "Can we afford to ignore that it has been proved that working 12-hour days in a row is unhealthy or shall we [KAD] join the debate?", Ms Knudsen asked.

Dispute over organisational boundaries and members

Worries about the new sector-oriented cartels and the decreasing membership of KAD dominated congress discussions. The KAD vice-president, Jane Korczak, accused several LO affiliates of poaching members from KAD, by using "dirty tricks". The accusations were partly directed at the Danish Trade Union of Public Employees (Forbundet af Offentlige Ansatte, FOA) and SiD. Because of the close connection between trade unions and the Unemployment Insurance Fund (Arbejdsløshedskasserne), it can be difficult for an individual to transfer to another trade union. In order to do so, he or she has to withdraw from the Unemployment Insurance Fund, and the withdrawal can be rejected by the Fund by referring to the sector and occupational division of the Fund which applies to the individual concerned. However this argument cannot be used if a member wishes to transfer to the cross-sector and occupational Unemployment Insurance Fund of the Christian trade unions (Kristlige Fagbevægelses Tværfaglige Arbejdsløshedskasse), which is one of LO's main competitors. From the Christian trade unions' Fund, members can then move on - to FOA, for example. KAD has lost approximately 150 members in this way. Both FOA and SiD deny these accusations.

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