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Men fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out not to be what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name. (William Morris - A Dream of John Ball)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Merger mania?

My immersion in the minutia of the current horror of local government cuts and privatisation (including privatisation mutton dressed as cooperative lamb) was interrupted briefly yesterday for some head-scratching.

Dandruff? No, rather the news that something semi-formal may be about to happen in relation to a possible merger between PCS and UNITE. Apparently a motion will be put within PCS Left Unity, which - given the political weight of Left Unity within PCS - may well then find its way to next year's PCS Conference.

Socialists should be convinced agnostics on the principle of trade union merger. Everything depends upon whether particular merger proposals create a stronger and more democratic union than the sum of its parts.

This means that you have to consider what might be called the "industrial logic" of a proposed merger as well as the question of trade union democracy.

Trade union democracy must be particularly protected through any merger discussion between any trade unions, because - in the nature of things - a lot of detail will end up with unelected officials who tend not always to give the highest priority to being held to account.

Were I a member of either PCS or UNITE I would approach all talk of merger with a healthy scepticism on this point.

What really provoked me to scratch my head though was the industrial logic of such an arrangement.

Obviously UNITE has members in so many sectors that almost any union, if transferring its engagements (in the quaint archaic terminology which makes relations between unions sound vaguely like dating) could find some similar folk in the ranks of the general union.

However, the merger of a predominantly industrial union into a predominantly general union really does require some compelling justification on which to found a belief that the new entity would be stronger in confronting the employers. In the case of PCS and UNITE I'm not aware that this case is being made anywhere - and certainly not in public.

Since a period of trade union growth would require a resurgence of struggle, we may be in for a series of defensive merger proposals as unions respond to continuing decline with consolidation.

Apparently some GMB activists were so alarmed at the prospect of "GUMBISON" after the joint press conference at the TUC that they are preparing a campaign in opposition to a GMB-UNISON merger.

Such a development might have some benefits in terms of industrial logic, but given its likely chilling effect upon trade union democracy - and therefore effectiveness - activists in both unions need to set some clear preconditions before anything moves further on that front.

Quite clearly, anyone who wanted a logical, effective and democratic structure for our trade union movement would not start from here.

Having spent twenty years dealing with some of the unforeseen adverse consequences of a merger which appeared to have both industrial logic and democratic safeguards, rank and file activists in UNISON have an obligation to sound a note of caution about merger mania in our trade unions.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange


The Tea Lad said...

Here's our latest on the subject, brother:

Help us with a bit of publicity?


Sean said...

On industrial grounds surely UNISON & PCS make more sense briging into the equation a predominantly public sector union?

nick venedi said...

A merger between Unison and GMB will be painful but it makes sense and it MUST happen.

We will have to live with it like we did when NUPE joined up with my beloved NALGO I was against it then but its obvious it was the right thing to do. Evolve or die as Deidrie Barlow said to Ken Barlow!!

Anonymous said...

nalgo not a lot going on, spent most of the time with there hands in the till,,,