Editorial: euro era dawning on Finland

Soome lipp

PHOTO: SCANPIX

Profound are the shakings in Finnish society, as visible in the strike and protests. The backdrop issue being how the nation will go from here: is the long-held tradition of employers, employees and government three-party-talks going to break, with trade unions losing ground? 

The elections this spring awarded new Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipilä (Keskusta) an obvious mandate to improve the country’s competitiveness. A part of the problem being that in comparison to other nations Finland’s wages and costs are too high – impossible for entrepreneurs to sell what’s been produced at Finnish costs. If they still had their own currency, an option would be to devalue the markka – overnight, everybody’s salaries would have shrunk as compared to other currencies. In the euro era, Finnish government cannot apply the scissors any longer. The labour market ought to be more flexible, allowing adjustments to global reality. The path to that, however, is obstructed by conditions and benefits fought for and achieved over the decades – which Mr Sipilä’s government is now attempting to alter. By nature, this is adjustment to a large currency area. Employers are applauding while trade unions are calling people to the battle.

Economy dominated the April elections and the mood that gained Mr Sipilä the win was shortly this: oh would somebody come and do something. For many long months they tried to tread the traditional Finnish path – enter a public contract between labour market players and the government. The try stalled – in big issues, agreement proved elusive.

Outwardly, Finnish trade unions are fighting for the conditions and benefits which would go should the government have its way. However, it seems that more importantly for them the unions are battling to maintain the power positions they have enjoyed. Without their agreement, weighty decisions have been impossible to implement on Finnish labour market. Up to now, trade unions have carried significant authority next to the parliament elected by the entire nation and the government of the republic. A substantial shrinking of that influence would fundamentally alter the core of Finnish society.

Thus it might be claimed that Finnish trade union leaders are fighting furiously for the power gained by predecessors over the past century. Add to that the power struggle within the trade union movement itself, with the chairmanship of the future overall umbrella organisation sought as main prize. Metal workers trade union chief Riku Aalto has braced himself for war, decidedly rejected the governmental proposals and calling upon all to protest. Antti Palola, at helm of the other umbrella organisation STTK, is more conciliatory.

So, on the balance is Finnish economy adjusting to euro era and restoration of competitiveness, as well as the familiar for Finns power structure. Beside the outspoken trade unionists, there stands a silent majority waiting for «somebody to do something». At that, people rarely like the cutting of their personal benefits – cut those of the other fellow, and leave me alone.  

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