Trade union confederations sign new cooperation agreement

In April 2006, the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions and the Confederation of Salaried Employees and Civil Servants in Denmark signed a new cooperation agreement to replace the existing agreement dating from 1973. The agreement deals with, among other things, new rules concerning the resolution of border disputes and opens the way for extended political and industrial cooperation.

On 26 April 2006, two major trade union confederations, the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (Landsorganisationen i Danmark, LO) and the Confederation of Salaried Employees and Civil Servants in Denmark (Funktionærerne og Tjenestemændenes Fællesråd, FTF), signed a new cooperation agreement. The agreement extends their political cooperation, outlines the different organisational areas of LO and FTF, and stipulates that disagreements about organising members can be solved through negotiation, conciliation and the involvement of the individual members.

Background

The cooperation agreement replaces the existing agreement or ‘truce’ between these two main trade union confederations dating from 1973. The truce was concluded in order to resolve the struggle between the confederations for new members, which in the long run threatened to hinder the growth of overall union density in Denmark. At that time, in 1973, the borders between the union members were effectively put in place and the truce guaranteed that LO and FTF member organisations would not try to take members from each other.

At present, LO consists of 18 trade unions and has about 1.4 million members. LO members are primarily skilled and unskilled workers with a basic level of education. FTF represents 104 unions with approximately 450,000 members. The members are mainly white-collar workers (salaried employees) and civil servants with an intermediate level of training. Together, LO and FTF work on behalf of up to 85% of the Danish labour force.

Context of new agreement

On 3 October 2005, FTF unilaterally agreed to a termination of the truce as it had become out of date. FTF claimed that the fixed border system had become inflexible and over-protective of its members and no longer corresponded to the wishes of individual union members. Furthermore, the truce needed to be replaced, FTF argued, with a more up-to-date cooperation agreement in light of globalisation, offshoring of workplaces, the need for adult and continuing training, job mobility and also because it did not reflect the wishes of union members. It was hoped that the new agreement would bring about a closer dialogue between LO and FTF in dealing with these issues. As the President of FTF, Bente Sorgenfrey, explained in a letter to LO on 3 October, the former 1973 truce only dealt with the issue of borders, and did not aim to achieve a dynamic political and administrative cooperation.

LO was surprised by the step taken by FTF – in particular because LO and FTF were in the process of discussing the conditions for a possible new agreement between them. President of LO, Hans Jensen, responded that he hoped that FTF’s unilateral cancellation of the 1973 truce was not a declaration of conflict. After short public discussions, however, the parties agreed to find a replacement for the truce agreement.

The negotiations resulted in a new agreement on 26 April 2006, which reflects a more flexible approach to cooperation as well as demarcation. LO and FTF agreed to strengthen their efforts in areas of common interest. This applies, in particular, to the challenges of globalisation and new demands of the future welfare society, both of which are topics currently under much political debate in Denmark. Under the new agreement, an annual meeting will take place between the day-to-day management of LO and the executive committee of FTF, and quarterly meetings will be set up between the two presidencies.

The agreement clarifies the resolution of border or demarcation disputes. Any such conflicts will be solved directly between the LO and FTF unions involved. A new clause to the agreement stipulates that if the parties are unable to solve the conflict through negotiation, an arbitrator will try to conciliate by consulting the affected individual member unions. The arbitrator will present a final conciliation proposal to the involved member unions, and if conciliation at this stage also fails, the case will be referred to the LO–FTF ‘demarcation board’.

Relationship between FTF and LO

The LO president’s fear of conflict was not entirely unexpected, given the history of the relationship between FTF and LO. In 1952, a group of mainly public and some private unions founded FTF. The new ‘white-collar’ confederation was seen as a threat to LO and especially their Union of Commercial and Clerical Employees in Denmark (Handels og Kontorfunktionærernes Forbund, HK), which represents salaried employees in the private sector. LO perceived FTF as a confederation representing ‘yellow’ (i.e. liberal) unions. The main reason for the foundation of FTF was the close relationship between LO and the Social Democrats. FTF declared themselves neutral and independent.

In 1973, LO and FTF came to a truce which settled the conflict over new members. At an extraordinary congress in February 2003, the member unions of LO adopted a new set of rules and values for a ‘New LO’. One of the most significant changes in relation to the New LO was that the last link, i.e. the financial link, to the Social Democrats was cut. The new independent aspect of LO resulted in speculation of a possible merger with FTF. However, after FTF’s cancellation of the truce, this merger suddenly appeared unrealistic.

Another reason for the LO president to be on his guard emerged. The third largest LO union, the Trade Union of Public Employees (Fag og Arbejde, FOA), represents the majority of public sector workers, which in many areas are related to FTF members in the public sector. Just prior to the termination of the truce by FTF, the president of FOA had publicly critisised LO for being old-fashioned and over-protective, and stated that FOA members in many cases had more in common with FTF members than the other LO member unions (DK0511101N). It seemed possible that FOA would join FTF instead. With these factors in mind, there were reasons to believe that FTF cancelled the truce with the aim of accepting the large FOA union as a member and thereby dominating the aggregate union membership of white-collar workers in the public sector. However, this did not happen, which resulted in continued speculation that eventually LO and FTF will merge into one large trade union confederation.

Carsten Jørgensen, FAOS

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