Unite, Britain's biggest trade uni0n, is preparing to announce an historic merger with a US counterpart, paving the way for the establishment of the first global labour organisation.
People close to the talks said last night that Unite had finalised the details of a framework agreement with the United Steelworkers (USW) uni0n, which has more than 1m members in the US and Canada.
A formal alliance will be unveiled at a USW convention in Las Vegas in July, said the people involved in the discussions - providing one of the most striking reflections to date of the impact of globalisation on the world's labour map.
Officials at both uni0ns view the proposals as the first step towards creating a global uni0n that will ultimately house labour movements from the world's rising economic powers in Eastern Europe, Latin America and Asia.
Derek Simpson, Unite's joint general secretary and one of Britain's most prominent trade uni0nists, has already held talks with his counterparts in Australia and Eastern Europe about possible future collaboration.
The scheduled summer announcement will reflect the recognition among uni0n officials on both sides of the Atlantic that they require a cross-border presence in order to punch their weight in negotiations with monolithic multinational companies.
Unite's 2m members in Britain and Ireland work for some of the largest companies in the FTSE 100, including BP, British Airways, BAe Systems and Rolls-Royce.
The merger with the USW will involve the formation of a new umbrella organisation, but will see the two uni0ns continue to operate with a degree of independence. The new "parent" body will have two co-chairmen, one of whom is expected to be Simpson, and could be named the United Global Workers' Uni0n or something similar, according to people close to the talks. Officials will meet to decide on the new name at the end of June.
Unite's decision to merge with the USW underlines the growing mobility of the global labour force. It also represents a landmark moment for the British trade uni0n movement.
Uni0n membership has been in long-term decline and officials believe that a larger, more powerful organisation will appeal to potential members.
Officials also believe that an international alliance would have given it greater clout in the recent dispute between Ineos, the British chemicals giant, and staff, which led to temporary closure of the Grangemouth oil refinery.
"This is a speculative rather than a substantive issue at the moment," said a spokesman for the employers' body, the CBI.
"Uni0ns only have a future if they are willing to work with employers to improve the prospects of their business."
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