Trans-Atlantic union merger may lack mettle
The success or failure of a planned merger between the United Steelworkers union and two large unions in the United Kingdom will depend on the details of how the proposed alliance is structured, says a local expert.
Under a plan unveiled Wednesday, the United Steelworkers union, based in Pittsburgh, would unite with Amicus, which has more than 1 million British workers, and is finalizing a merger with U.K.-based Transport and General Workers Union and its 800,000 members. The Steelworkers represent about 1.2 million members in the United States and Canada, including about 850,000 active workers.
The triumvirate would create the first trans-Atlantic labor union, representing more than 3.4 million members in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and Ireland. Union officials said it will the the world's biggest union and would be expected to attract other union organizations throughout the world into membership.
"This is truly a very exciting day for working people in America and the U.K. When global capital flexes its muscle, we need to build a counter force," said Leo W. Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers union, during a conference call from Ottawa, Canada, yesterday.
Marick Masters, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh's Katz Graduate School of Business, said the devil is in the details of the merger.
"A union under an umbrella title would be nothing more than a federation. ... It remains to be seen what a merged union would look like," Masters said.
He cited the proposed blockbuster merger of the United Auto Workers, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and the United Steelworkers of America, which was first unveiled in 1995 and collapsed six years later.
"It (the merger) may satisfy the need for unions to respond globally to the movement of capital, but it doesn't address the bottom-line reality of declining union membership. I don't think it's a bad idea, but they're stapling together three unions, which in and of itself, is by no means a cure-all," Masters said.
Details that need resolution include how to fund the new organization, legal and administrative issues, choosing a governing board and bridging communications over the Atlantic Ocean.
The Steelworkers gained about 275,000 members in 2005 and became the largest industrial labor union in North America by virture of its merger with the Nashville-based Paper, Allied, Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union. Earlier this month, the USW added the 1,150-member Independent Steelworkers Union in Weirton, W.Va., to the fold.
"Multinational companies are pushing down wages and conditions for workers the world over by playing one national work force off another. The only beneficiaries of globalization are the exploiters of working people. The only way working people can resist is to band together. If not now ... when?" asked Derek Simpson, general secretary of Amicus.
Representatives of the three unions signed an agreement to set up a merger exploration committee, which is charged with laying down a foundation for a legal merger within one year.
During the process, the unions will engage in coordinated campaigning and common approaches to contract bargaining with multinational companies.
Gerard said it was premature to say where the new union would be based, or how its governing board would be structured.
"I'm not sure the name would be as important as the structure and commitment. But we will be thoughtful and creative," Gerard said.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.