NDU, SFWU and Unite to form super-union

Written By: - Date published: 2:23 pm, September 26th, 2007 - 8 comments
Categories: workers' rights - Tags:

I was wondering when this was going to break. From Molesworth and Featherston this morning (offline, subscription only):

Two private-sector unions are poised to join forces, potentially creating a major new force in industrial relations.

Sources say that the Service and Food Workers’ Union and the National Distribution Union reached a heads-of-agreement last week over an amalgamation proposal, and are even considering inviting Matt McCarten’s Unite to be part of the new super-union.

A merger has logic, bringing together workers across the service and manufacturing sectors into a union of around 35,000 members, with all the associated benefits of scale and pooled resources.

One of the things the left will need to consider seriously is what this means for the SFWU’s affiliation to the Labour Party. The SFWU is currently the Labour Party’s second largest affiliate, and ties between the two have been so strong that even Alliance stalwart Jill Ovens was pressured by the union to join the party before taking up her position as Northern Regional Secretary. One can’t imagine Laila Harre or Matt McCarten being as keen to throw their lot in with Labour. Word has it the SFWU’s National Secretary John Ryall has made affiliation to the party a bottom-line for amalgamation, but it’s an open question whether Ryall is in much of a position to push this through.

If the three unions can sort their shit out and work together this will be a good thing for the union movement. As the EPMU (another beast created from a series of amalgamations) has shown, a super-union’s economies of scale make for a far more effective campaigning and organising machine. It’ll be interesting to see how this progresses.

8 comments on “NDU, SFWU and Unite to form super-union”

  1. Insidetrack 1

    Hmm, this looks like the alliance party in industrial drag. I’ll be very interested to see how the leadership issues are resolved. Especially considering Laila may have been meeting Bill English on the QT lately.

  2. boris y 2

    Considering McCarten is backing John Tamihere’s Mayoral campaign, anything is possible. Unite has successfully corporatised itself in the last year, shedding the anarchist riff raff from its boisterous Supersize days. Prehaps this union merger paves the way for the ex-Alliance supremos to ease themselves into a leadership role of what remains of the union movement, and bargain with Labour from a position of strength?

  3. Tim 3

    Speaking as a rank-and-file NDU activist, I have to say that I think this merger idea – if true – would have a negative impact on the trade union movement in NZ.

    The progressive, struggle-based elements in Unite and NDU would inevitably lose out to the pro-Labour SFWU bureaucrats and their “partnership with the employer” rhetoric, as SFWU seems to have a bigger organisational infrastructure in terms of paid officials, headquarters etc

    As for the EPMU being a positive example of why we should favour union amalgamation, all I can say is just ask the Postal Workers’ Union about what it’s like to have a bunch of right wing scabs come in and poach all your membership by undercutting current union pay and conditions…

  4. JohnW 4

    Um Tim, how do you poach members by undercutting pay and conditions? D’ya like rock in and say “join my union and I’ll get you a worse deal”?! – I’m an EPMU member and I’ve got to say I don’t think they’re right wing but then again they’ve never conducted a secret strike [“secret strike”? wtf???] so maybe they *are* a little conservative.

  5. Tim 5

    John: “Um Tim, how do you poach members by undercutting pay and conditions? D’ya like rock in and say “join my union and I’ll get you a worse deal”?!”

    Me: no, my understanding is that what happened was that the EPMU did a sweetheart deal with the bosses who then recognised them as the official party to the new collective, at the expense of hundreds of members of the existing union got made redundant.

    A friend of mine was one those made redundant as part of this process, and nearly twenty years on he’s still bitter about the EPMU leaders role in this debacle (not to mention the Labour Government as well!).

  6. JohnW 6

    Which EPMU leader was that? Every union has bitter ex-members (I could tell you a few stories about my time as a delegate in the SFWU and in smaller more radical unions) but the truth is I get more contact and support from the EPMU than any of the seven union’s I’ve been (I have had a lot of different jobs).

    I’d also point out that the EPMU and NDU worked together during the progressive lock-out to get a decent result. Or is increasing the pay and conditions of hundreds of supermarket workers not radical enough?

  7. Sam Dixon 7

    Tim – I don’t know about the events in question, but you say it was 20 years ago. That was before the mergers that created the EPMU, so doesn’t seem to be an argument against the creation of superunions.

    A superunion obviously has major advantages in terms of economies of scale and there is less imbalance in resources the union can bring to bear compared to employers. On the other hand perhaps, because of the number of collectives a superunion covers, there is a tradeoff in a less intimate relationship with the employers and less sector-specific knowledge.

  8. Jon 8

    Story is not true. SFWU has had policies of amalgamation for years and years. All that has happened is they have agreed to an informal meeting with the NDU. Reality in NZ is all unions are too small and they suffer from a real lack of resources to run large campaigns. They need to get together, regardless of factions and past differences, and they need to make sure that they keep the relationship with Labour. What no-one says about the Spotless dispute is that it was really about money that the government had already ringfenced to be passed onto low paid workers in public hospitals and Spotless was the only company to refuse to do so. Similarly, in Aged Care, the government’s $400million over 4 years is to increase workers’ pay and must be done through collective bargaining and provider contract agreements – already some large corporate employers in this sector have settled on a $1 an hour pay increase with the unions. There’s no doubt that union influence in Labour made the difference in getting the Labour government to fund and target this money for low paid workers.

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