Largest blue- and white-collar unions intend to merge

In October 2001, the two most powerful affiliates of the Austrian Trade Union Federation (ÖGB), the Union of Salaried Employees (GPA) and the blue-collar Metalworking and Textiles Union (GMT), announced that they intend to merge. However, the plan drew criticism, primarily from within GPA, not least because the merged union will have a lower proportion of women members than GPA.

On 8 October 2001, officials of the Union of Salaried Employees (Gewerkschaft der Privatangestellten, GPA) and the blue-collar Metalworking and Textiles Union (Gewerkschaft Metall-Textil, GMT) met to decide on a merger of their organisations. They announced that they intended to establish a single large union that covers a total of 503,306 members, which is more than one-third of the total membership of the Austrian Trade Union Federation (Österreichischer Gewerkschaftsbund, ÖGB).

The issue of restructuring the representation of blue- and white-collar workers into a single trade union has permeated debates within ÖGB since its formation (AT9806192F). However, the GPA-GMT proposal came as a surprise to the president of ÖGB, Fritz Verzetnitsch, as well as its remaining affiliates. Only one week previously, the ÖGB presidium had decided to delegate discussion on a less radical reform, which included a reduction from 13 to eight member unions (AT0104212N), to ÖGB's working committee on organisational issues. Both Rudof Nürnberger (the chair of GMT) and Hans Sallmutter (the chair of GPA) had been represented in the presidium.

While GPA has the largest number of female members of any ÖGB affiliate (123,614) and ranks third among ÖGB unions in terms of its proportion of women members (43.1%), women in the metalworking sector account for only 18.9% (40,934) of all GMT members. The proposed merger has attracted criticism from within GPA, not least because it would significantly weaken women's position compared with the current situation in GPA, since the percentage of female members in the merged union would stand at 32.7%. At present, the 13 member unions of the ÖGB cover a total of 1,442,393 - see the table below

Membership of the 13 ÖGB-affiliated trade unions (December 2000)
Union Total membership Women's membership Women as % of total membership
Union of Salaried Employees (Gewerkschaft der Privatangestellten, GPA) 286,576 123,614 43.1%
Civil Service Union (federal and provincial) (Gewerkschaft Öffentlicher Dienst, GÖD) 234,187 111,135 47.5%
Metal and Textiles Union (Gewerkschaft Metall-Textil, GMT) * 216,730 40,934 18.9%
Local Government Employees' Union (Gewerkschaft der Gemeindebediensteten, GdG) 174,677 86,301 49.4%
Construction and Timber Workers' Union (Gewerkschaft Bau-Holz, GBH)* 159,985 6,986 4.4%
Railway Workers' Union (Gewerkschaft der Eisenbahner, GdE)* 99,052 6,273 6.3%
Posts and Telecommunications Employees' Union (Gewerkschaft der Post- und Fernmeldebediensteten, GPF)* 75,579 18,440 24.4%
Hotels, Restaurants and Personal Services Union (Gewerkschaft Hotel, Gastgewerbe, persönlicher Dienst, HGPD)* 50,032 36,423 72.8%
Agricultural, Food, Beverage and Tobacco Workers' Union (Gewerkschaft Agrar-Nahrung-Genuß, ANG)* 40,797 9,475 23.2%
Chemical Workers' Union (Gewerkschaft der Chemiearbeiter) * 35,940 5,378 15%
Trade and Transport Union (Gewerkschaft Handel, Transport, Verkehr, HTV)* 35,099 12,754 36.3%
Printing and Paper Union (Gewerkschaft Druck und Papier, DUP)* 18,045 2,668 14.8%
Arts, Media, Sport and Free Professions Union (Gewerkschaft Kunst, Medien, Sport, freie Berufe, KMSfB) 15,694 4,810 30.6%
ÖGB total 1,442,393 465,218 32.3%

* Blue-collar workers unions.

Source: Tätigkeitsberichte der ÖGB Frauenabteilungen.

As predicted (AT0104212N), the reform initiative launched earlier in 2001 by the president of the ÖGB failed, as former initiatives had. The reason is that these initiatives did not meet the interests of GPA and GMT. Their coming amalgamation will significantly affect and change overall union structure in Austria. It is not an exaggeration to say that the new union will become the 'centre of gravity' of ÖGB. This is not only because of their large share of total union membership. In addition, GPA and GMT have cooperated intensively in the course of collective bargaining and have set the pace for bargaining by the other unions (AT9912207F).

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