Major union merger moves closer

Plans are well advanced for the merger of two major trade unions – Amicus and the Transport and General Workers’ Union – to form what will be the largest trade union in the UK. Following approval by the leaderships of the two unions, detailed merger plans will be the subject of membership ballots in both organisations. If endorsed by the members, the new trade union is scheduled to come into being in May 2007.

During the autumn of 2006, significant progress was made towards the merger of Amicus and the Transport and General Workers’ Union (T&G) to form the UK’s largest trade union.

Talks started in early 2005 over a merger between three of the UK’s four biggest unions – Amicus, the T&G and the GMB general union – but in mid 2006 the GMB’s central executive council decided against participating in the merger. The GMB leadership’s stance was endorsed by the union’s annual conference in June 2006 (UK0608039I). Despite this setback, the other two trade unions have continued with their plans to merge.

Merger plans finalised

Merger plans have now been approved by the leaderships of both unions. In October 2006, the executive council of Amicus formally ratified detailed merger documents, as did the T&G executive council on 22 November 2006. On 19 December 2006, the T&G executive council subsequently convened a delegate conference. Delegates at the conference voted to endorse the ‘instrument of amalgamation’ between the T&G and Amicus, and agreed to submit the proposals for the merger to a ballot of the union’s whole membership, with a recommendation to accept.

The proposal for the new union will then be put to a ballot of members in both unions in February 2007, in line with the UK’s legislation governing trade union mergers (86Kb PDF). If, as expected, the merger is approved in this ballot, the new union, which has yet to be named, will be launched on 1 May 2007.

According to a report in The Times newspaper on 4 December 2006, the members of Amicus and the T&G will be asked to vote for one of three names suggested for the new union: OneUnion (reportedly preferred by Amicus), Union@work (proposed by T&G) or AmicusT&G (the compromise option).

Key stages in creation of new union

The merger proposals involve the establishment of a transitional joint executive council on 1 May 2007, to continue in office as the industrial divisions of the two unions merge, leading eventually to full integration. The planned timetable for the creation of the new union also envisages a lengthy ‘bedding-down’ period before an election for the new union’s general secretary is held, which is most likely to take place in 2010. The current General Secretary of Amicus, Derek Simpson, and the T&G General Secretary, Tony Woodley, will continue in office as joint general secretaries until their retirement (in December 2010 and January 2012 respectively). The new general secretary designate is due to take office in January 2011 and to assume sole leadership of the new union one year later on Mr Woodley’s retirement.

Implications of merger

With almost two million members, the merged union will be much larger than Unison, the public services’ union which is currently the UK’s largest trade union, with 1.3 million members, and will be the dominant trade union in many sectors of the British economy. According to the T&G, the new union will be ‘a powerhouse throughout the economy with a major industrial, political and campaigning voice. A bigger, stronger union will translate into real gains for working people on terms and conditions and will make employers sit up and listen. It will also be a powerful platform for organising, taking trade unionism to the millions who need it but are outside the movement, particularly young people.’ Moreover, 10% of income from membership, which amounts to GBP 15 million (about €22.7 million as at 1 February 2007), is earmarked for the new union’s recruitment and organising campaigns.

Some leading Labour Party figures have expressed concern about the potential political influence of the new trade union; for instance, at the Labour Party conference in September 2006, Alan Johnson, Secretary of State for Education and Skills, called for the trade unions’ voting power to be reduced. It has also been suggested that the new union could marginalise the Trades Union Congress (TUC), the union federation that has traditionally acted as a key policymaking body for British trade unions and as a central channel for union representations to ministers and government departments.

Mark Hall, IRRU, University of Warwick

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