Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Union M&A

I raised this issue last week and Barrie McKenna in todays Globe and Mail questions Mergers and Acquisitions in the labour movement. The alternative to the labour movements version of corporatism is One Big Union. Instead of organizing the unorganized, like Starbucks workers, these old industrial based business unions are organizing for their retirement.

On this May Day - also know as International Workers' Day - it's worth asking the question, why merge at all?

The venture may prove to be a lot less ambitious than advertised. The three unions said they would engage in co-ordinated campaigning on issues such as human and labour rights in Colombia, China and elsewhere, as well as common approaches to contract negotiations with multinational companies.

The barriers to more fundamental transatlantic co-operation are substantial, including different labour laws, political systems and employers.

Nor is it clear how the merger would help overcome the greatest challenge facing organized labour - dwindling membership. The vast majority of workers in all three countries aren't union members. In Canada, just a quarter of the civilian labour force belonged to a union last year, down from nearly 30 per cent at the beginning of the 1990s. The comparable numbers for the United States and Britain are 12 per cent and 28.4 per cent, respectively, and the shares continue to fall every year.

The Steelworkers have bucked the trend, but mainly by swallowing other unions, rather than internal growth. And like many unions, nearly a third of its members are retirees, whose ranks are unlikely to be replenished with new union members.

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