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Unions merge to meet challenge of liberalisation

The new boss of the union, Hugo Fasel, (left) with the economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, on Saturday

(Keystone)

Two Swiss unions have tied the knot to create the largest workers' organisation in Switzerland, after the Federation of Trade Unions.

Its boss says the new union - with 150,000 members - will be much better placed to defend workers' interests in the face of ongoing liberalisation.

Travail.Suisse formally came into being on Saturday from the merger of the Federation of Christian Unions and the Federation of Swiss Employees' Associations.

The new organisation says it will stay out of party politics and have no formal links to the church. Its bosses say it will continued to be governed by Christian social ethics, the rules of social partnership and democratic order.

"In a world where the economy is becoming ever more dominated by neo-liberal doctrines, you need counterweights like strong workers' organisations," said Hugo Fasel, president of the Federation of Christian Unions.

On Saturday, Fasel was chosen to head up the new union, Travail.Suisse. "The house is built, now we can work on it," said Fasel.

Larger and more influential

Other unions are taking a similar view and further mergers are in the pipeline, which would create even larger and more influential workers' bodies.

The Swiss Building and Industry Workers Union and the Metalworkers and Watchmakers Federation agreed three months ago to set up a joint association of their own.

No sooner had they made the news public when the Unia services union and the Food, Transport and Commerce Federation said they would be interested in joining the new grouping.

The merger should be completed by the end of 2004 and, according to SFTU president, Paul Rechsteiner, would be the biggest in Swiss trade union history, with the new grouping having 200,000 members.

It would be responsible for around 500 collective bargaining agreements, accords on working conditions and salaries negotiated by workers' organisations and employers.

Job losses

Mergers between unions have been on the cards for the past decade. The movement began in reaction to liberalisation, globalisation, structural changes, job losses and drops in union membership.

A host of smaller workers' organisations have already merged to give their members more weight in negotiations with employers. But nobody is prepared yet to bring all the country's unions under one roof.

The Federation of Christian Unions and the Federation of Swiss Employees' Associations said in March they were not prepared to forge closer ties with the SFTU.

"Merging all the country's unions would only weaken the workers' movement in Switzerland," said Max Haas, president of Syna, the country's third-biggest union. "Competition between workers' organisations keeps us on our toes."

Still, SFTU president Rechsteiner believes it is important for the different unions to join their forces and coordinate their efforts.

"In the long term, what we are looking for is a common but pluralistic representation of all workers," he said.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

The new union will have 150,000 members.
It will be the second biggest in Switzerland, after the Federation of Trade Unions.
Formed on Saturday out of the Federation of Christian Unions and the Federation of Swiss Employees' Associations.
Merger comes after several other amalgamations.

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