New trade union federation merges just two unions

In January 2010, the new trade union organisation TEAM was formed, following a merger between two unions affiliated to the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK). Originally, it was planned that six unions in industry would form the merger – however, SAK’s ambitious merger plans were not realised in the end. Nevertheless, SAK’s president believes that more trade unions will join TEAM as time goes on.

On 1 January 2010, the new industry trade union federation TEAM was established. TEAM is a merger of two trade unions – the Chemical Workers’ Union (Kemianliitto) and the Finnish Media Union (Viestintäalan ammattiliitto) – both of which are affiliated to the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (Suomen Ammattiliittojen Keskusjärjestö, SAK). Originally, it was planned that six of SAK’s affiliated trade unions in industry would form the merger. Thus, the merger is considerably smaller than had been originally envisaged.

Details of original merger plans

The President of SAK, Lauri Lyly, was appointed in December 2006 as a spokesperson for a project seeking to assess the viable future relations among six trade unions. The six trade unions in question are the Finnish Metalworkers’ Union (Metallityöväenliitto), the Chemical Workers’ Union (Kemianliitto), the Paperworkers’ Union (Paperiliitto), the Wood and Allied Workers’ Union (Puuliitto), the Finnish Electrical Workers’ Union (Sähköliitto) and the Finnish Media Union (Viestintäalan ammattiliitto). The six trade unions all represent industrial workers and are affiliated to SAK. It was originally planned that these six trade unions would merge to form the new trade union TEAM, which would begin its operations in January 2010.

Through the merger, the trade unions were aspiring towards stronger and more wide-ranging interest representation that would facilitate positive policies for the labour force, vocational training programmes and industry, as well as efforts to improve workplaces. The merger was sought because more extensive trade union coverage in terms of the entire value chain – from production to services – entails greater overall power for trade unions (FI0704049I).

Trade unions withdraw from merger

However, the Paper Workers’ Union withdrew from the merger project, although the Railway Workers’ Union (Rautatieläisten Liitto, RAUTL) subsequently decided to come on board (FI0812019I). After the Railway Workers’ Union replaced the Paper Workers’ Union, the negotiations for a merger resumed.

Nevertheless, in the spring of 2009, the Electrical Workers’ Union dropped out of the talks, while a short time later the Metalworkers’ Union withdrew following a vote in an additional trade union meeting. The Metalworkers’ Union had a crucial role to play in the merger process. In the trade union meeting, a majority of three quarters of trade union representative votes was needed for the merger’s approval. However, with 303 representatives voting in favour of and 181 voting against the merger and entry into TEAM, the trade union had to withdraw from the merger process. In February 2009, the Metalworkers’ Union organised a member election about the merger – the voting resulted in a 56% ‘yes’ vote and a 44% ‘no’ vote for the TEAM merger.

Mergers set to be a future trend

SAK’s President Mr Lyly, who was a spokesperson for the merger project, gave assurances that the ambitious merger project was not over, even though four trade unions had withdrawn from the process. According to Mr Lyly, more industry trade unions will consider joining TEAM as time progresses. He added that the mergers of individual trade unions will be a trend in the future, as unions seek to boost their activities and enhance employees’ pay and employment conditions.

Commentary

Almost a year ago, in the spring of 2009, the birth of the new industry ‘super union’ TEAM seemed certain, with the member elections of both the Electrical Workers’ Union and the Metalworkers’ Union giving the go-ahead for the plans. In the end, however, the political power struggle between the socio-democratic representatives who are a majority in the Metalworkers’ Union and the trade union representatives affiliated to the Left Alliance (Vasemmistoliitto) caused a situation where the required majority of three quarters of trade union representative votes was not realised.

Pertti Jokivuori, Statistics Finland, University of Jyväskylä

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