On Friday 21 October, 30,000 workers in Finland’s export industry went on strike. The metal workers union, and the civil servants’ union, PRO, called the strike.
Finish wage negotiations are mixed up with the governments’ proposal for a “framework agreement”. The framework agreement is, in reality, a version of the failed ‘social partnership’ strategy pursued by rotten union leaders and ex-workers’ parties across the world. The agreement means that the employers get some tax cuts if they agree to pay for some ‘on-the-job’ training for workers. The government, which includes the social democrats, SDP, and the left alliance, also promises to “scrap the idea” of lowering the allowance for the “alternate time off” scheme (a scheme to allow older workers to get some time off work, with an allowance, while a long term unemployed persoon replaces the older worker). At the same time, the unions have accepted tiny wage increases of 4.3% over two years (2.4% the first year and 1.9% the second). This idea of a “framework” has been agreed by SAK, FTFC and Akava (The Finish trade union confederations) and EK, the employers’ federation. However, it is still up to the individual unions to strike deals within the framework.
As a way of stopping strikes and higher wage demands, the framework deal will begin on 25 November, even if enough unions have not agreed. “It would be wrong to let a ‘small’ group hold Finland back, despite the fact that a ‘large’ group has already accepted this deal” says Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen. This is a warning from Katainen to more militant unions not to make higher demands or to take strike action.
Despite this, a strike broke out within the export industry on Friday 21 October. In solidarity, telecom workers at companies like TeliaSonera, Eltel and Relacom refused to handle fault reports from the companies involved in the dispute. Even if the leaderships of the striking unions, the metalworkers’ union and the civil servants’ union, PRO, have accepted the framework deal, they could not accept the employers trying to break the unity of the unions by negotiating pay rises on a company by company basis.
Four day strike sees employers retreat
After a four day strike, the employers had to give in. Any company-based agreement is now centred on consensus between the employer and the local union. If no agreement can be made, a general pay rise, according to the national wage agreement, will be given to all workers in the company. Unfortunately, the deal still puts a lot of pressure on unions to accept company-based agreements that includes more individually-based wages for every worker, says Jari-Pekka Manninka, from Sosialistinen Vaihtoehto, CWI supporters in Finland.
During the course of the strike, both the conservative Prime Minister Katainen and social democratic Work Minister, Lauri Ihalainen, put maximum pressure on the unions to end the strike and accept the deal. They used tradition and nationalism to make the impression that the whole future of Finland is at stake and that the unions must take “responsibility”.
“In difficult times, people in Finland know how to agree on things” said Jyrki Katainen.
“In the current situation, the opposite is actually true,” commented ” says Jari-Pekka Manninka. With the deepening crisis of capitalism, the only responsible thing for trade union activists is to prepare the unions and workers for struggle. That will be the only way to defend jobs, wages and working conditions. Instead of stopping strikes, the tradition of walk outs against job cuts must be built upon and unions must be active and bold in defending workers’ rights
The framework deal threatens to tie the hands of the working class in Finland when the opposite is necessary. The fact that SDP and Left alliance leadership is behind this anti-worker action shows very clearly how they have become defenders of the employers and capitalism. The betrayal of SDP and the Left Alliance have, in the absence of any mass left alternative, opened the way for the right wing populist and racist ‘True Finns’ party.
Radical trade union activists, youth, and rank and file members of the SDP and Left Alliance must start a discussion about how the resistance can be organized.
“Socialistinen Vaihtoehto thinks that the willingness of workers to struggle must be reflected in the leadership of the unions. Socialists in the unions must fight to make them more democratic and to struggle to defend workers’ rights. We believe that a new workers party must be built in connection with the struggle, and we will fight for a clear socialist program for such a party”, says Jari-Pekka Manninka.