Unprecedented union merger between LIGA and armed forces interest organizations

The Democratic League of Independent Trade Unions (LIGA), one of the smaller union confederations, has recently announced that the Trade Union Association of Military and Police Employees, a union independent of confederations, would join LIGA.

The pluralist structure of Hungarian unions is recognised as one of the most important features of the industrial relations system. There are six national level trade union confederations and allegedly around 800 independent unions against a decreasing union membership. Most unionists agree that the divided nature of the union movement is a major obstacle to developing effective employee representation and organising new members. For a long time, smaller national level confederations have been under pressure to increase their membership through amalgamations. The biggest membership confederations have repeatedly called for the re-regulation of the rules of the National Interest Reconciliation Council (Országos Érdekegyeztető Tanács, OÉT), the national level tripartite body, to tie the presence and voting weight of each union confederation to its size of membership.

The Democratic League of Independent Trade Unions (Független Szakszervezetek Demokratikus Ligája, LIGA), one of the smaller union confederations, has recently announced that the independent Trade Union Association of Military and Police Employees (Fegyveres és Rendvédelmi Dolgozók Érdekvédelmi Szövetsége, FRDÉSZ) would join it.

LIGA was the first independent union confederation to be established in the wake of transition, in December 1988. At that time it had a few thousand members, mostly politically motivated academic employees. LIGA played a historical role in the democratic transition process and its influence was greater than what could have been expected from its membership size. In the nineties, the membership composition of LIGA considerably changed. The share of public employees fell and it became a confederation representing blue-collar unions operating in the competitive sphere of the economy (i.e. in the private sector and in state owned enterprises). In 2001, LIGA was reported to have about 50,000 paying members. None the less, LIGA is one of the smallest national confederations and making the membership size a criterion of participating in the national level tripartite body would threaten its position. In recent years, LIGA has actively sought, though unsuccessfully, amalgamation with other national level confederations, most notably with the Alliance of Autonomous Trade Unions (Autonóm Szakszervezetek Szövetsége, ASZSZ) and the National Federation of Workers’ Councils (Munkástanácsok Országos Szövetsége, MOSZ).

FRDÉSZ is a public employees’ association with 32,000 members, and its member organisations are in different kinds of armed forces (police officers, army employees, prison guards, fire fighters, custom officers, etc). As a union independent of all confederations, it sought membership in the national tripartite forum but was rejected by the union confederations represented in the tripartite machinery, except for LIGA. With the current amalgamation, however, FRÉSZ has won representation in OÉT.

At the same time, with FRDÉSZ among its members, LIGA has become the third biggest union confederation in Hungary, and also an important union in the public sector, which until now was dominated by Trade Unions’ Cooperation Forum (Szakszervezetek Együttműködési Fóruma, SZEF)

The 10 December 2005 Congress of the LIGA would seal the amalgamation by adopting a new program and electing new leadership.

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