Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page:

From The Socialist newspaper, 14 June 2007

Merger with GMB?

Eyebrows were raised at the NEC when General Secretary Dave Prentis announced that he had agreed a policy of close and joint working between UNISON and GMB.

Widely seen as a pre-merger move, the announcement provoked a discussion which tended to assume that the merger was actually happening.

The surprise amongst NEC members reflected the animosity between the two unions at local level, where GMB is often seen as engaging in little more than poaching exercises, often disrupting unity in the face of the employer.

Whilst not ignoring the negative side of any union in a merger situation, it is important to distinguish between the rank and file members of unions, who have much more to unite them than to divide them, and the culture of the union for which the leadership, usually the paid bureaucracy, are responsible.


Prentis' position has some logic to it. The merger between TGWU and Amicus to form UNITE-the Union has left GMB as a smaller , (just over 600,000 members) union squeezed between two "Big Boys" UNISON and UNITE, an irony given that GMB were at an earlier stage involved in the merger talks, but decided to pull out.

As with all unions with a large private sector membership GMB have been losing members, and their ferocious poaching in parts of the public sector has not enabled them to keep their membership up.

Prentis is therefore concerned that left to their own devices GMB will gravitate to UNITE, relegating UNISON to permanent "also ran" status in the "Biggest Union" race.

He is therefore making an early pitch to pull GMB into UNISON's orbit, undoubtedly with a view to a possible future merger.


Many also suspect a deeper political logic to Prentis' actions. His right-wing leadership is based on clique of senior officers, key lay activists from both the union's Labour Link group plus the Communist Party of Britain, (Morning Star supporters), resting on an often embarrassingly uncritical and compliant NEC.

Whilst this clique dominates many of the union's structures, its base amongst the broader membership is gradually eroding.

Individual membership of the Labour Link is now down to 37% of the total, its lowest ever proportion as former NUPE and COHSE members retire, and are replaced by new members who overwhelmingly opt for the General Political Fund.

The Labour Link itself is increasingly resented by thousands of members.

Collective bargaining disasters like Single Status/Equal Pay and the Local Government Pension Dispute are creating the conditions where thousands more members are beginning to question the competency of the national leadership.

In the Health Service Group, long regarded as the leadership's most loyal base, the Service Group Executive has at last been forced to back the long-voiced demands for a national demonstration to defend the NHS, and when NHS members have to pay more for their pensions under the provisions of the deal which the leadership sold to them as a victory they too will have reason to question the leadership's competence.

Seeing these developments on the horizon, the GMB must seem like the US cavalry to Prentis, 600,000 additional members into the Labour Link, plus the addition of a bureaucracy with far more power even than UNISON's has, with far fewer opportunities for lay members to influence events.

It is no accident that the first national initiative announced under the joint working arrangement was a meeting to discuss a joint approach to the Labour Leadership contest!

Bigger Not Always Better

Marxists approach the question of union mergers from the point of view of the rank and file, and whether the merger will or will not lead to greater strength and combativity.

On this basis, a smaller, democratic union can prove more effective than a larger, bureaucratic union, whose leaders are anxious to avoid struggle whilst they look after their own interests at the expense of the rank and file.

In the run-up to the formation of UNISON activists fought long and hard to ensure that the new union would be democratic, with branch autonomy, a branch-based annual conference and checks on the powers of full time officials.

Concern at the nature of the GMB, where members do not have the right to elect their own Branch Secretaries, conference is a small affair, largely controlled by the union bureaucracy.

Moreover in local government, where many UNISON members work alongside GMB members, the union's reluctance to join in industrial action, including national industrial action on occasions, is often a problem.

Incidentally problems of joint working between the two unions are not limited to local level.

Prentis told the NEC that he had been assured by his opposite number that the GMB would not take the breakaway Ambulance Service Union into membership, and did exactly the opposite two weeks later.

At this stage it is important to avoid knee jerk responses to the idea of a merger; we should use the joint working project to forge closer links with the GMB at local level.

If this does lead to merger talks we will insist on no diminution of democracy as the price of merger, with democratic branches, a branch based annual conference, the right of former GMB members to opt for the GPF from day one, and lay member control over the officers of the union.

Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.

In The Socialist 14 June 2007:

Fight for a living wage

No to attacks on pay and conditions: leaflet

Come to the National Shop Stewards Network Founding Conference

Founding Conference of the National Shop Stewards Network

Stoke: Anger at postal privatisation

Unison national conference

Fight attacks on the public sector

Members' discontent strengthens left in UNISON elections

Campaign For A New Workers' Party public meeting

Swansea workers fight privatisation

Merger with GMB?

What we think

United public sector struggle needed

Socialist Party NHS campaign

Fresh wave of protest in NHS

Labour climbs down in Wales - but for how long?

Coventry - Anger at NHS redundancy threat

Durham hospitals jobs threat

Prescription for profit

Stem cell potential to break medicine bottleneck

War and terrorism

Stop The War Coalition - demonstration

Anti-Bush day in Italy - A tale of two protests

G8 Summit protests

What did the G8 summit achieve?

G8 protests: Determination wins through

International socialist news and analysis

Boycotts of Israel: Will they help the Palestinians?

Western hypocrisy over 'democracy' utilised by Putin

Socialist Party news and analysis

Oil, profits, sleaze and hypocrisy

How Mittal makes millions

Bosses' bonuses

Amicus conference: Unite and New Labour


Home   |   The Socialist 14 June 2007   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate  

Related links:


triangleArriva bus strikers stand firm

triangleScotland: BiFab workers' occupation and march secures jobs and pay guarantee

triangleTrade unionists march to defend 650 local jobs

triangleNorth London hospital workers fight cuts and job losses

triangleGig economy exploiter Uber loses London licence


triangleBrighton Uni lecturers strike against job cuts

triangleLeeds college workers protest poor pay rises

triangleHundreds turn out for rally aimed at removing west Wales Tory MP

triangleThe fight against racial discrimination is tied to fighting against capitalist austerity


triangleThe Socialist's 2017 quiz

triangleTotnes MP uses coffin controversy to distract from brutal NHS cuts

Reports and campaigns

Reports and campaigns



Support the Crossrail Woolwich walkout



Totnes MP uses coffin controversy to distract from brutal NHS cuts



Tory plan to hold dinner at coal mining museum defeated



Bradford campaign to save children's services launched



Six months on - still no justice for Grenfell



Movement growing against fracking giant Ineos


South London

South London health bosses' cover-up



Unite day of action against blacklisting



Brighton victory



Newham anti-academies strikes


Tamil Solidarity

Tamil Solidarity and Refugee Rights activists meeting



Unite protest against blacklisting



Anti-DOO lobby of Liverpool's transport committee


Donald Trump

Mobilise to stop bigoted billionaire Donald Trump's state visit to Britain



Arriva bus strikers stand firm

triangleMore Reports and campaigns articles...

Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party

triangle13 Dec Support the Crossrail Woolwich walkout

triangle8 Dec Local government pay: fight for the 5% claim, fully funded

triangle6 Dec Strikers rally in Liverpool

triangle6 Dec Corbyn's Labour can defeat Tories with socialist programme

triangle5 Dec Victory at Glenfield shows people power can save our NHS

triangle5 Dec Labour council Blairites deselected

triangle30 Nov Victory: Glenfield Children's Heart Centre saved!

More ...

triangle14 Dec Wakefield Socialist Party: Universal Credit - the Tories' latest assault on the poor

triangle18 Dec Leeds Socialist Party: Religion and Socialism

triangle19 Dec Bristol North Socialist Party: Christmas social

triangle21 Dec Wakefield Socialist Party: Socialists and the National Question

More ...

Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube



December 2017

November 2017

October 2017

September 2017

August 2017

July 2017

June 2017

May 2017

April 2017

March 2017

February 2017

January 2017





















Platform setting: = No platform choice