The NZ Herald reports the Service and Food Workers Union, the National Distribution Union and Unite have agreed in principle to merge into a new super-union.
The new union will represent some of the lowest paid workers in the country such as cleaners, checkout operators, fast food workers and factory process workers, and encompasses three of the most militant unions in the country.
And while the membership will be a lot less than the 54,000 suggested in the article (by my reckoning the three unions’ combined membership is around 40,000 members), it will certainly be a major new political and industrial force in this country.
As we pointed out in our post back in September, a merger makes real sense. A super-union’s economies of scale makes for a far more effective campaigning and organising machine, and the new union will need that if it plans to make good on its plans to organise the largely non-unionised retail and hospitality sector.
Matt McCarten certainly has big ambitions:
Unite general secretary Matt McCarten, who has grown his membership five-fold in the past two years through a media-savvy “Supersize my Pay” campaign, said he wanted the new union to double its numbers within a year to easily surpass the country’s biggest union, the 55,000-member Public Service Association.
“It’s not just about a union getting bigger. It’s about getting the critical mass,” he said.
“I think what it will become is the catalyst to organise other unions around it with a campaigning union approach around social justice issues.
“In my view I’d want it doubled within 12 months. The others all think that’s ambitious but I think we could do it, easy.
“I think workers don’t have a problem with joining a union at all. What we need is the capacity to meet their needs – that’s what has held us back.”
Of course, as anyone in politics knows, egos and conflicting interests can sink the best laid plans, and as I understand it the deal is nowhere near as certain as the Herald suggests. There’s also the issue of whether the new union retains the SFWU’s affiliation to the Labour Party.
The Servos played a major part in Labour’s get out the vote strategy in South Auckland last election and have supplied a good number of the party’s MPs, but with Laila Harre and Matt McCarten at the helm this issue is still far from settled. I’m sure Labour will be watching the situation closely.