Metalworking and chemical workers’ unions to merge

In January 2009, the Metalworking, Textiles, Agriculture and Food-processing Union and the Union of Chemical Workers announced their decision to merge their organisations by November 2009, thus establishing a new manufacturing trade union called ‘pro.ge’. The merger initiative seeks to streamline organisational structures, strengthen the unions’ political power and consolidate union balances.

On 22 January 2009, the respective federal executive boards (Bundesvorstände) of the Metalworking, Textiles, Agriculture and Food-processing Union (Gewerkschaft Metall- Textil-Nahrung, GMTN) and the Union of Chemical Workers (Gewerkschaft der Chemiearbeiter, GdC) announced their decision to merge the two organisations. In formal terms, the merger process is scheduled for 25–27 November 2009, when the two trade unions will hold their last separate congresses (Gewerkschaftstage) and subsequently the first joint congress. They will formally finalise the establishment of the new trade union organisation at this joint congress. The new union will be called the Production Trade Union (Produktionsgewerkschaft, pro.ge).

New union structure

Pro.ge will be a pure blue-collar trade union, with a membership domain encompassing private sector workers, retirees, apprentices and unemployed people from the following industries: metalworking, mining, energy, textiles and leather, agriculture, food-processing, tobacco, and temporary agency workers – falling in the domain of the current GMTN union – and chemicals, glass production, paper, vulcanisation, mineral oil and gas – which are currently represented by GdC. Together, the two trade unions represent about 255,000 workers.

The merger is likely to further strengthen GMTN’s relative position among the country’s trade unions under the umbrella of the Austrian Trade Union Federation (Österreichischer Gewerkschaftsbund, ÖGB). Together with the Union of Salaried Employees, Graphical Workers and Journalists (Gewerkschaft der Privatangestellten – Druck, Journalismus, Papier, GPA-DJP) – a union with which GMTN has been maintaining close ties through intense collective bargaining cooperation, thus setting the pace for bargaining for other trade unions – it has proved to be one of the country’s two most powerful trade unions.

GMTN and GdC are planning to bring together their organisational and member service structures by the beginning of 2010 at the latest. By then, both organisations will have moved their head offices to newly built premises in Austria’s capital city of Vienna – where ÖGB will also locate its head office.

Reasons for merger

Like other trade union merger initiatives in recent years (AT0603029I, AT0704029I), the merger between GMTN and GdC aims to:

  • strengthen their position with regard to the employers;
  • centralise and coordinate the unions’ bargaining policies across different branches and sectors;
  • provide for improved services and support to the members and the works councils.

However, as the respective Chairs of GMTN and GdC, Rainer Wimmer and Alfred Artmäuer, conceded, the trade unions also saw the need to merge against the background of membership decline and financial weakness. Hence, the envisaged merger project is considered the most promising means for reducing running costs and benefitting from synergy effects.

Ongoing trade union restructuring

With the foundation of the new pro.ge trade union planned for November 2009, Austria’s trade union structure under the umbrella of the ÖGB will be significantly streamlined, compared with the situation in the late 1990s. Over a 10-year period, the number of unions affiliated to ÖGB will be reduced from 14 to eight unions, with the prospect of further restructuring, as the small Arts Media, Sports and Liberal Professions Union (Gewerkschaft Kunst, Medien, Sport, freie Berufe, KMSfB) is currently seeking to merge with a larger organisation (AT0806029I).

For smaller unions in particular, which have experienced a significant membership loss for several years, mergers are widely considered as the most appropriate means of consolidating their resources and, at the very least, maintaining their political power. This has particularly been the case in recent years, following 2006–2007, when ÖGB in the wake of the debacle at its own Bank for Employment and Commerce (Bank für Arbeit und Wirtschaft und Österreichische Postsparkasse, BAWAG,) was forced to sell all of its shares in this bank (AT0611029I). Since then, the only source of revenue for ÖGB and its member trade unions has been the membership dues paid by union members.

However, experts disagree about the real outcomes of such merger activities. For smaller trade unions, it seems to be largely undisputed that mergers are the only effective means of securing union representation; nevertheless, mergers tend, in turn, to render membership of individual trade unions more heterogeneous. The latter tendency, it is said, may have negative effects on both interest aggregation and membership participation in post-merger unions.

Georg Adam, Department of Industrial Sociology, University of Vienna

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