Merger between childcare workers' unions abandoned

In autumn 2001, members of the Danish Federation of Early Childhood Teachers and Youth Educators (BUPL) voted against a merger with the National Union of Nursery and Childcare Assistants (PML), despite recommendations in favour from the leaderships of the two trade unions. Skilled BUPL members did not want to be members of the same union as the unskilled members of PMF, and the merger has now been abandoned.

Since the autumn of 1999, the trade unions representing skilled and unskilled childcare workers - the Danish Federation of Early Childhood Teachers and Youth Educators (Forbundet for Pædagoger og Klubfolk, BUPL) and the National Union of Nursery and Childcare Assistants (Pædagogmedhjælpernes Forbund, PMF) respectively - had been discussing a merger into a single union (DK0012109F). However, in autumn 2001, following a consultative ballot among BUPL members, the top leaderships of the two unions decided to abandon the merger plans. A merged childcare workers' union would have had 80,000 members (50,000 from BUPL and 30,000 from PMF) and would have been the sixth-largest union in Denmark.

The main argument of BUPL members against the merger concentrates on the issue of education levels. The members of PMF require no formal educational qualification and the skilled members of BUPL did not want to risk their professional competence and status by merging with PMF. The leaders of both unions expressed strong disappointment at the demise of the planned merger. A total of 19 out of 23 local units of BUPL voted 'no' at their general assemblies. The members of PMF were sceptical, but generally had a more positive attitude. They would probably have benefited most from the proposed merger.

The failed plans also mean that BUPL will remain affiliated to the Confederation of Salaried Employees and Civil Servants in Denmark (Funktionærernes og Tjenestemændenes Fællesråd, FTF), which will thus not lose one of its largest member organisations. If the merger had become a reality, the idea was that BUPL would transfer its affiliation to the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (Landsorganisationen I Danmark, LO), of which PMF is a member.

This proposed shift from FTF to LO probably also influenced the position of some BUPL members, who argued that services are better in the smaller FTF, where BUPL, given its size, has a decisive influence on the agenda. The leadership of BUPL, headed by its president, Bente Sorgenfrey, would have liked to see a shift to the much larger LO, where she believed that BUPL would have obtained more political influence. The leadership took the position that there should be only one strong and effective union confederation in Denmark instead of three as is now the case - the mainly blue-collar LO and mainly white-collar FTF, plus the Association of Professional Associations (Akademikernes Centralorganisation, AC), which represents people with a higher education.

This is the second occasion within a short period of time that members have turned down the merger plans of their union leaders. In September 2001, the proposed merger between industrial workers organised in the Union of Danish Electricians (Dansk El-Forbund) and the Danish Metalworkers' Union (Dansk Metalarbejderforbund) surprisingly had to be abandoned (DK0110101N). It seems that there is a conspicuous lack of communication between the top and the rank-and-file in these unions.

The scepticism of the union members can be seen as an expression of lack of confidence in the visions of their leaders and it also highlights the apparent priority of trade union members in Denmark - ie to preserve their professional identity. Commentators point out that visions are not necessarily positive just because they are large-scale but, if the recommendations of leading union officials and industrial relations researchers are to be trusted, it should by now be obvious to the members that mergers result in more political influence, better services to members, smaller union fees, better opportunities for continuing training, better prospects of higher wages (in particular, for the members of smaller unions) and less 'red tape', as there will be less duplication. Some commentators believe that union members might sympathise more with their top leaders if they would listen to what they are actually saying. Only recently, an LO analysis indicated that the structure of the Danish trade union movement is totally out of step with developments on the labour market (DK0105120F).

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