Merger of electricians' and metalworkers' unions rejected by members

After negotiations over the course of 2001, the executive committees of the Danish Union of Electricians (Dansk EL-Forbund) and the Danish Metalworkers' Union (Dansk Metal) decided to propose merging the two unions. However, in a ballot held in September members of the electricians' union voted to reject the proposal, much to the regret and surprise of the executive committees. In mid-October 2001, a proposed merger between childcare unions was also rejected by members.

Over the past 30 years, the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (Landsorganisationen i Danmark, LO) has been working towards the formation of industrial federations (DK9801148F). For more than 10 years, union cartels have been seen as a shortcut leading to the establishment of such industry-wide bodies. Furthermore, the trend in recent years has clearly been in the direction of increasing numbers of union mergers and 'acquisitions' (DK0006181N, DK9908139F and DK9909146N).However, the process of achieving the industrial union goal now seems to have slowed down.

Lengthy negotiations were held during 2001 over a merger between two LO affiliates - the 30,000-strong Danish Union of Electricians (Dansk El-Forbund, DEF) and the Danish Metalworkers' Union (Dansk Metalarbejderforbund, Dansk Metal), with 140,000 members - to create a new organisation, the Union of Electricians and Metalworkers (Dansk El og Metal). When a non-binding ballot over the merger was held in September 2001 among DEF members, it was widely believed that this would be purely a formality. However, the result was a surprising 'no' vote by a majority of the members: 8,750 opposed and 6,944 in favour.

Erik Andersson, the DEF president, said that the members' rejection of the merger with the Danish Metalworkers' Union will be respected. The executive committee must take note of the fact that it did not succeed in obtaining the necessary support for the merger framework which had been agreed on by the two unions and which the majority of the members of the DEF executive committee had recommended to the members, said Mr Andersson. The members of the executive committees of the two unions were both regretful and surprised over the result of the ballot.

Meanwhile, another proposed merger between unions in childcare, which was also expected to be accepted by members, seems likely to fail after the results of the first membership ballots in mid-October 2001. The skilled members of the Danish Federation of Early Childhood Teachers and Youth Educators (Forbundet for pædagoger og klubfolk, BUPL) rejected a merger with the non-skilled members of the National Union of Nursery and Childcare Assistants (Pædagogmedhjælpernes Forbund, PMF) (DK0012109F)

The apparent demise of the mergers has brought one of the recurrent problems of the Danish trade union movement back into focus. Traditions and professional identity are strong elements which the members are very reluctant to give up. Also in those cases where mergers have finally been carried through, these matters were core issues which required lengthy negotiations before the members eventually accepted a merger.

Another major problem has also become visible. In several cases and on various issues, there seems to be a discrepancy between the recommendations of the executive committees and the reactions of the members. There seems to be a major gap between the top and the bottom in some unions. Many members, according to observers, see the trade union movement as a heavy and bureaucratic apparatus and they do not share the visions of the top managers. The most recent example of disagreement came earlier in 2001 when meat factory and slaughterhouse workers rejected in two ballots a compromise collective agreement which their union's executive committee considered to be very favourable (DK0104117F).

In the attempted merger between the Danish Union of Electricians and the Danish Metalworkers' Union, the executive committees believed that a merger would be a forward-looking strategy and in line with developments on the labour market, which mean increased requirements for the efficiency of trade unions. As mentioned above, a modernisation of the Danish trade union movement has been on the agenda for many years. The joint cartel in which the two unions are involved, the Central Organisation for Industrial Employees in Denmark (CO-industri), is worried about the signal sent by the DEF members in rejecting the proposed merger. The electricians' 'no' to the merger has also gives rise to concern in a third CO-industri member union, the 13,500-strong Union of Telecommunication Workers (Telekommunikationsforbundet), which had been preparing itself for negotiations over joining the planned merged union.

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