Helsinki (20.1.2015 - Heikki Jokinen) A merger of trade union confederations now looks like becoming a reality. Delegates from 73 trade union met in Helsinki for a preparatory meeting. The meeting officially endorsed a move to establish a new union confederation in Finland.
Right now there are three trade union confederations in Finland. SAK, the Central Organization of Finnish Trade Unions is a mainly blue-collar confederation with a little over one million members.
The second largest is the Finnish Confederation of Professionals STTK with 600,000 members which mostly represents salaried employees. Akava, the Confederation of Unions for Professional and Managerial Staff in Finland, has 585,000 highly educated members mainly in academic and managerial professions.
Taking part in the meeting were unions from all three confederations, but the level of engagement and commitment has not exactly been uniform. Both SAK and STTK together with their member unions have adopted a very positive view towards the idea, whereas Akava has made it clear it wants to remain independent.
Only one of Akava’s member unions, the Union of Professional Engineers in Finland IL has been willing to join the preparation process so far. IL is one of the main unions in Akava with 70 000 members.
The schedule is tight: it was decided at the meeting that the new confederation should come into being in the year 2016. The idea is to establish a totally new confederation. Time to bid farewell to the existing ones and start with a clean slate.
The meeting ended by requesting those unions who wished to join the new confederation to sign up by February 10 at the latest. The planning stage can then begin. But the new confederation will remain open to any union who want to join at a later date.
Three briefcases not needed
The new confederation is determined to be politically neutral and will abide by and fulfil all the national and international tasks of the existing confederations. The immediate goal does not envisage savings or cutbacks in the confederations economy, all employees are guaranteed a job.
In practise the project will mean a merger of SAK and STTK, with perhaps some unions from Akava. Pertti Porokari, the chairperson of Akava affiliated Union of Professional Engineers in Finland IL is very much in favour of a new confederation.
His reasons are connected with the efficacy of the trade union movement. ”The employers have been closing ranks and consolidating their position for the past ten years and on their side there is now a mega-union. We recognize this as an imbalance in the labour market”, Porokari says.
The reasons underlying support for a merger between SAK and STTK are similar. As SAK chairperson Lauri Lyly put it: ”We do so similar work that we do not need three briefcases for it.” If confederations were to be established today, there would not be three of them, he believes.
”When the factory lights are turned off, unemployment is as dreary for blue-collar workers, white-collar workers and factory chiefs alike”, said STTK chairperson Antti Palola. He see the division of workers and other employees in trade union work as outdated.
Akava is not interested in the merger. “In keeping with our strategy, Akava endeavours to reinforce the supervision of the interests for our members and to proactively renew the union activities. This requires that we exist as a neutral and independent central organisation”, says Sture Fjäder, chairperson of Akava.
”The working life challenges faced by the members of, for example, SAK or Akava differ to such an extent that the merger of these two central organisations would not benefit the members of either”, says Olli Luukkainen, vice chairperson of Akava and chairperson at main union of Akava, Trade Union of Education in Finland, OAJ.
Road opens up towards new trade union confederation (28.11.2014)