Helsinki (10.01.2001 - Juhani Artto) The largest central trade union organisation in Finland SAK, represents the interests of almost 1.1 million members of its 26 affiliated unions. One of the burning questions for the future of SAK is how the ageing of this rank and file membership will affect the organisation's position. Will it be able in the future to maintain a high organising rate in its various fields of operation?

A survey published in December indicates that more than half of the members of SAK affiliated unions in 1998 are due to retire from working life before 2010. An even quicker rate of retirement applies to their 30,000 to 40,000 shop stewards. Up to 25,000 of these key activists will retire before 2010. This means that local union branches will have to recruit and train some 2,500 new shop stewards every year. This is a huge challenge, since the ever-increasing demands involved in serving as a shop steward discourage interested activists from standing for the post.

More than half of the approximately 3,000 full-time trade union officials in the SAK sector will retire before 2008.

The results of this new survey came as no surprise to SAK, and the leadership of the organisation is calm in the face of the rapidly changing situation caused by ageing. The author of the study, Jyrki Helin, believes that the SAK unions will continue to have a total of more than a million members by 2010. Over the last twenty years the organising rate has remained steady at about 80 per cent, and there is no evidence of any impending fall in the near future.

Changing vocational structures may generate some pressures tending to reduce the size of the SAK rank and file. According to forecasts, the fields of work organised under SAK will have a net increase in jobs of only 70,000, while the total growth in employment will be 230,000 jobs.

The organising rate for young employees is below average. This gives cause for concern among union movement leaders. However, they firmly believe that more effective active recruiting than in the last few years will increase the organising rate of younger workers.

According to Helin, the survey shows that the main reason for young people not joining the unions is that nobody has invited them to join. Other reasons are work in temporary jobs and work during studies.

At the start of 2001 SAK began a new recruiting drive in workplaces and educational institutes, and at shopping centres and youth events. The campaign is particularly focused on the Helsinki Metropolitan Area and other growth centres. It will be soon also be visible in the media and billboard advertising. The Finnish campaign slogan "Liikkeessä!" is a double entendre, referring both to participating in the movement and to being on the move.

Campaign secretary Ari Näätsaari stresses that the main focus will be on workplaces and the homes of union members. A further campaign goal is to change the trade union movement's modes of operating so that they meet the demands of changing times. Thus, the campaign must be understood as a long-term effort to keep the movement abreast of its rapidly changing environment.

While there are good reasons to adapt the operating models to the new era, SAK's optimism about its future is solidly anchored in a long tradition of defending the rights of working women and men. The trade union movement offers employees better employment security and a higher standard of living than the individualistic alternatives offered by some of the latest arrivals in the labour market, the new economy enterprises.

SAK offers the membership both relevant collective agreements and the ability to control their effective implementation.