This week, Unite (UK and Ireland) and United Steelworkers (USA, Canada and Caribbean) signed an agreement to merge into Workers Uniting, a transatlantic union with over 3 million members. Unions in Australia, Eastern Europe and Latin America may join later.
The merger should make it easier to influence multinational corporations such as BP and ArcelorMittal, but also institutions such as the World Trade Organisation, the European Commission and ‘the increasing number of global forums on issues like climate change’.
The new union also plans to help protect Colombian union members from violence, aid rubber workers in Liberia and help impoverished ship workers in India.
At this stage, the unions do not really merge. They will remain largely autonomous, but they will create an umbrella leadership, probably headed by the current chairmen of the two unions. The new organisation will have ‘an initial budget of several million dollars’ and its staff will include research, international affairs and communications specialists.
Most commentators have applauded the decision to merge, although some have pointed to potential obstacles. For example, British Labour politician Denis MacShane warns that American protectionism may create tensions.
“American unions have fulminated against the decision of the Pentagon to award a contract for 130 refuelling tankers to a European consortium headed by Airbus. This was a boost to jobs of Unite members in Britain but there is now a ferocious battle in Washington to reverse this decision and award the contract to Boeing. It will be an important test case for the Unite-USWA alliance to see if the new transatlantic union can see off the protectionist attitudes of American labour”, he writes in the Guardian.
Workers Uniting. Sources: Time, New York Times, Guardian