Some of the trade union representatives, interviewed in the period of 8 April to 12 May 2010, and here in particular representatives from trade unions organising the workforce in the public and private service sectors, raised the concern that a returned centre-right government around the National Coalition Party and the Centre Party as the result of general elections in 2011 could lead to a more direct attack on trade unions and labour rights in Finland. In particular the right to strike is mentioned as a potential target, but also issues such as the management of unemployment funds or the fact that trade union membership fees are tax deductible. As a consequence, some of the trade unions have started to focus more on closer co-operation with other social movements in order to have a broader social basis of support. This includes the public sector union JHL as well as the private service sector unions PAM, but also the white-collar private sector union TU. At the same time, JHL experiences tensions over how to steer successfully a careful course between the continuing need to engage in tripartite discussions with employers and the state on the one hand, and the demands by its members to pursue more radical strategies on the other.
Not everybody from the trade union side, however, shares these concerns about a potential attack by the right. The Finnish Metal Workers’ Union is confident that its very close relationship with the employers in its sector will hold regardless of who wins the elections next year. The benefits of this co-operation for both sides would simply be too obvious. Others point to the fact that even the National Coalition Party has many trade union members amongst its members and voters, and be they members of the more conservative AKAVA trade unions, which organise highly qualified employees often in positions with managerial responsibilities. These members would not support, it is pointed out, an attack on trade union rights, and the party is aware of this. So far at least, the centre-right government has continued with the tradition to consult trade unions closely in national policy-making. Could it be, as some argue, that raising the fear of a potential attack is part of an electoral strategy to increase votes for the Finnish Social Democratic Party?
Overall, similarly to the situation in the area of collective wage bargaining (see Finnish trade unions in changing times Part I), there is currently a situation of uneasy continuity in the sphere of tripartite relationships and labour rights. The future remains uncertain.
Prof. Andreas Bieler
Professor of Political Economy
University of Nottingham/UK
Personal website: http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/~ldzab
30 June 2010