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Russian unions getting ready to merge

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17 March, 2015Six Russian trade unions are planning to merge, bringing together one million workers in a move that will help to increase union power and opportunities.

Among the merging unions are the Russian Aircraft Industry Workers’ Union (Profavia), the Automobile and Farm Machinery Workers' Union of Russia (AFW), the Engineering Workers’ Union of Russia (Rosprofmash), the Shipbuilding Workers' Union of Russia, all affiliated to IndustriALL Global Union, as well as the All-Russian Defense Industry Workers’ Union and the Interregional Union of Shipbuilding and Ship Repairing Workers. IndustriALL discussed the initiative with the chairmen of three merging unions.

Speaking about the merger prospects, the Profavia chairman Nicolay Solovyev said: "The merger is inevitable. All the unions that are getting ready to merge are working under one ministry, the Ministry of Industry of Russia. We have one federal authority. So why conclude five or six sectoral agreements, if we can have one for all of us?"

There are several reasons for the merger said Solovyev: "First of all, there is a reduction in union membership. Our industries are shrinking for a number of reasons, therefore the union membership is going down too. Secondly, there are many forces in the society that are against the unions. In order to resist this pressure, the union has to be large and strong. It is time to speak not just about an aircraft industry workers’ union, a shipbuilding workers' union or an engineering workers’ union, but about one metalworkers’ union. All our union members are doing something with metal, making products from metals.”

The chairman of Rosprofmash Nicolay Shatokhin said: "Since 2008, performance in the mechanical engineering sector been erratic. There was a downturn in 2008-2009, a rise in 2011-2012, and we have been stuck in another recession since 2013. This has been aggravated by sanctions and the drop in oil prices last year. If the enterprise has no clear stock of orders to ensure production, then jobs are no longer guaranteed. The enterprise has to optimize production and non-production costs, including salaries, staff numbers, and the social guarantees specified in the collective agreements".

Shatokhin told about his previous experience of union merger: "Rosprofmash was formed by a merger of two unions: the Union of Heavy Mechanical Engineering and the Union of Engineering and Instrument-making Workers in 1995. We were the first to merge based on our independent decision, as earlier it had been happenning under pressure from the party and government authorities. Already at that time the need to strengthen the territorial unions was the main reason for merger. Our country is huge, and it is difficult to solve all the problems from Moscow.”

"Now the desire to merge is also based on the necessity to strengthen the territorial unions, it will also allow to strengthen the central union body that will make the union more powerful in negotiations with our social partners. For example, the Russian Engineering Union, the employers association, does not have branches in every region of Russia that could cooperate with our territorial unions. Now we have concluded the industrial agreement in cooperation with two more unions, AFW and the All-Russian Electric Trade Union. In 11 regions of Russia, our territorial unions conclude regional bargaining agreements also teaming up with other unions. It works well and allows us to solve social problems.”

The chairman of AFM, Andrey Fefelov, said: "In last ten years we have lost 50 percent of our union members, there were 800 000 of us, and now only 390 000 remained. We need to consolidate the finances; the Russian unions won't be able to exist without it.”

Speaking about the coming merger Fefelov added: "We have to understand that we will work for a common goal. We need to cast out all the emotions and personal ambitions to make the decision because it is directed on further consolidation of all efforts and the strengthening of our union. Without it I don't see the future."

IndustriALL considers the willingness of six Russian unions to merge as a wholly positive step and hopes that  the unions will make a decision to create the joint union at their respective congresses.