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A Transatlantic Union Merger

The Boilermakers and a British Transit Union are negotiating the first ever transatlantic union merger

Kris LaGrange's picture
Sep 24, 2021

In the United States, many unions are referred to as International, for example, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters or the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). However, most of these unions are international because they represent workers just over the border in Canada. That could change with a possible merger between a European Union and an American one.

The International Brotherhood of Boilermakers (IBB), a 50,000 member union in the United States and Canada that represents skilled craftsmen and women and industrial workers who work in heavy industry, shipbuilding, manufacturing, railroads, cement, mining, and related industries, is considering a merger with the TSSA, which represents 18,000 control center staff, engineers, travel agents, train supervisors, ticket office and gate staff in the United Kingdom (UK) and Ireland.

The two unions say that they have opened negotiations and if approved would form the first transatlantic union. The talks were kicked off after the TSSA membership voted in favor of starting merger negotiations at their annual conference last week.

“The aim is to deliver an autonomous British and Irish section composed of current TSSA members,” said TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes. "We can build on our shared values and take forward a new and exciting model of trade union organizing for our members on both sides of the pond."

Cortes added that if the merger went through, there would be no real change in the way the union operates, but it would give them access to far greater funds to support organizing.

The two unions have been working together since January 2020 when they signed a strategic partnership agreement.

"The Boilermakers union is very much looking forward to discussions for merger with TSSA. The more we have learned about TSSA, the more we have understood the mutually beneficial opportunities for our unions,” said IBB President Newton Jones. "The strategic partnership agreement we signed in January 2020 first brought together our common strengths and resources, and even amid the pandemic, we began to experience the advantages of sharing resources. I am excited about intensifying our discussions and continuing our work together to amplify IBB and TSSA's efforts to ensure working people have a voice on the job, safe working conditions, fair wages and fair treatment."

If a merger between the two unions works out, it could provide an important test case for these unions working together. With strong unions in many countries within Europe, especially in the EU, a merger between US and European unions could give both sides much more leverage. Major companies like Volkswagen and Luxxottica are almost entirely unionized in Europe but actively fight unions in the United States. At the same time, many of these companies are funded by Wall St. firms. If more unions had transatlantic partners they would have some leverage to push foreign companies or to push US investors to take a more worker-friendly position. Imagine T-Mobile workers in Europe going on strike to support the workers in the United States who are facing a union-busting campaign.

Both sides say that they would like to reach a merger agreement before July 1, 2022.

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