Scepticism greets plans for ‘super’ union merger

Members of two engineering unions that are planning to merge have accused their leaders of ‘chasing members rather than principles’ this week.

The AEEU and the MSF unions launched a ballot on Wednesday which will end in the creation of a ‘super’ union with more than one million members in many industrial sectors, assets of £100m and a turnover of £60m.

But some members and industry experts have warned that the new organisation could be too big to represent the concerns of workers in the aerospace, automotive, electronics, chemical and pharmaceutical and general engineering sectors effectively.

Dave Smith, an AEEU shopfloor steward at Ford’s Dagenham plant said: ‘While I agree it could be good, it could get too big. They seem to be chasing members rather than principles. The AEEU was once a skilled union, but now they take any Tom, Dick or Harry.’

Bob McCallum, an MSF staff representative and metallurgist with automotive supplier GKN Hardy Spicer agreed.

‘Most people will just vote yes, but they don’t really understand if this means they are getting more out of it. They just know they will be part of a bigger union.’

Union expert, Matthew Cannon, senior lecturer in employment relations at Southampton University business school said it was unclear what the merger might achieve for members.

‘Perhaps it’s for economies of scale. Some argue against mergers because they cannot see how a big organisation can represent all the different interests.’

Companies are waiting to see what the merger will mean for union relations.

Vauxhall and glass specialist Pilkington said it was too early to tell what the implications are. A BAE Systems’ spokesman said: ‘Past mergers have not affected our relationship with unions, and it’s the same with this amalgamation.’

At a press conference this week, AEEU national organiser Charlie McKenzie and Roger Lyons, general secretary of the MSF said the new union would still be able to represent different specialist sectors.

‘We are developing officers who will have the specialist knowledge necessary for their industry,’ Lyons said.

Any duplication among union employees will be dealt with by voluntary redundancy packages. Meanwhile, the two unions’ general secretaries, Sir Ken Jackson and Lyons will continue until they retire, at which point a single general secretary will take over in about six years’ time.

The new organisation has set aside £1m for a campaign to attract new members.