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RMT and TSSA talking of merger

News that rail unions, RMT and TSSA, who between them have about 110000 members are starting talks about a possible future merger is very interesting, and any such move might also drag in the 18000 strong craft union, ASLEF,  to create a powerful new transport union.

The history of the trade union movement has always featured a process of amalgamations, but whether they are a good or bad thing depends upon the detail, and the context.

GMB overwhelmingly decided to opt out of the merger talks between AMICUS and TGWU that eventually led to the formation of UNITE. Experience has shown that the rapid process of mergers that created AMICUS was already relatively unstable, and merger with TGWU led to a huge but sometimes directionless union that has often been less than the sum of its parts. Len McCluskey has made a good start in turning that around, but has a mammoth job to make UNITE punch its weight.

UNISON has been a more successful merger, despite the oddity of the union sometimes feeling like NALGO’s lay members run by NUPE’s officers. However, it is an overwhelmingly public sector union, which has its drawbacks, as UNISON can seem overexposed to the risk of government cut backs, and also UNISON has to work hard to avoid the trap of its campaigns seeming like special pleading for public sector workers.

The most obvious outstanding case for mergers would be the teaching unions. Uniting NUT and NASUWT would make a union of 700000 members, and if ATL could be brought in, this would be over 900000 strong. This would be a hugely powerful voice for education.

But there are some other possible mergers that would be of huge mutual benefit. For example GMB and USDAW would be a brilliant fit. As both unions organise in the retail sector already, both are committed to an organising rather than servicing model, and both have an internal culture where relatively low paid manual workers feel comfortable. What is more, while USDAW has seen solid growth in recent years, it is arguably overexposed to risk in its relationship with TESCO, and its bargaining position would be improved by being part of a bigger union with eggs spread across more baskets.


  1. Jon Moorcroft says:

    “GMB and USDAW – committed to an organising rather than servicing model” – You are having a laugh aren’t you? I work in a warehouse, with full recognition rights with Unite, whilst the GMB have dawdled for years at our other DC in the south, and are effectively pinching members money because they refuse to push for recognition, which is the gold standard for trade unions to aim for. And don’t even get me started on USDAW! I know a Unite rep at one of the few Tesco sites that have not signed “sweetheart” deals with USDAW, and he reliably tells me USDAW are effectively in TESCO’s pocket due to Tesco bailing them out financially a few years ago when they hit a bit of a crisis. What is the point of being in such a union? You might as well throw your money down the drain.

  2. andy newman says:


    I refer to the “organising model” as a technical term, in contrast to the “servicing model”. One of the central points of Len’s campaign to be GS was to extend the TGWU’s organising model into the formerly Amicus parts of UNITE.

    The idea being that the union seeks to empower lay reps to do much of the case work, leaving full time officers time for capacity building (organising).

    Clearly any union would prefer recognition, not least becasue memers in organised workplaces with recognistion agreements are cheaper to service; but recognition depends upon recruitment and there are plenty of workplaces where it is a struggle to get enough members.

    There is no mileage in these anecdotes about this or that union being crap in certain workplaces, because in truth all of the unions are patchy, with good organisation in some areas, and poor in some other areas.

  3. Redshift says:

    I’m a member of both GMB and Unite (because I changed jobs) and I would describe GMB as far more in line with a servicing model than Unite. Seems to be all about cheaper insurance and such.

    My efforts to get involved with the branch were fruitless with a secretary who said ‘well I send out letters but we are never quorate so I don’t bother’ – I was like, is that fucking it then?! No ringing round reps or emailing the membership?!

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