(Durban 04.04.2000 - Juhani Artto) "Governments and business accept what we never will: extravagance and misery growing side by side, the growth of trade breeding the growth of injustice. Enormous wealth accumulating in the hands of a very few and growing poverty and desperation for the many. Their indifference is globalisation's greatest crime, because the resources exist to eradicate poverty from the face of the earth", ICFTU General Secretary Bill Jordan said in his opening address to the 17th ICFTU Congress in Durban, South Africa.

Without doubt, this tone will endure to the very end of the Congress, which finishes at noon on Friday.

The diverse meeting of 1,200 delegates, representing 125 million organised workers in 145 countries, has no difficulties in outlining the changes which it wants to bring about in the world or identifying those responsible for the misery and growing injustice. The problem is how to achieve these common goals or even a tiny part of them in the coming years.

(Durban 03.04.2000 - Juhani Artto) ICFTU, the leading body of the international trade union movement, today began its 17th Congress in Durban, South Africa. There is no lack of issues of major importance to a global labour force of three billion people, almost one billion of whom are unemployed or underemployed.

It is a huge achievement for organised labour that ICFTU, with its 215 affiliated federations in 145 countries, currently represents 125 million employees, and that more federations are seeking membership of the ICFTU family. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the cold war, ICFTU has had no major challenger on the trade union scene.

Another brilliant achievement is that the wide variety of 1,200 delegates will be able to consider complex issues in a constructive, non-divisive way, even when many of the affiliated federations are often bitter rivals in their own countries.

(Riga 30.03.2000 - Juhani Artto) Latvia, one of the three Baltic countries to the south of Finland, began official membership negotiations with the EU in February. The other two Baltic countries, Estonia and Lithuania, are also officially negotiating on membership.

While the more optimistic Latvian ministers claim that the negotiations will be completed by 2003, most experts believe that a longer period will be needed.

In any case, it is highly probable that labour, goods and capital will cross the Gulf of Finland freely in the not-too-distant future. This means that Finnish employees have a special interest in the evolution of the labour market in the Baltic States.

(05.03.2000 - Juhani Artto) Many trade union activists and leaders around the world have heard about, or know what SASK is. SASK is the Finnish language abbreviation of the Trade Union Solidarity Centre of Finland.

What is the role of this organisation in Finland and globally?

"The international trade union movement coordinates work to increase expertise, improve networking and raise the organising rate of trade unions in the developing countries", explains SASK Director Hannu Ohvo. "SASK is the tool, or service centre, of the Finnish trade union movement in this endeavour."

(24.02.2000 - Juhani Artto) "International organisations must increase the pressure against States which approve of unethical acts such as child labour, environmental destruction or repression of the trade union movement."

Asked to guess, who published this demand last year, few Finns would immediately consider the bishops of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Finland. This, however, is the right answer. The statement is part of the booklet "Towards the Common Good", in which the bishops express their worries about current antisocial trends in the world - Finland included.

The booklet is a direct attack against the antisocial character of the neo-liberal policies determining the present model of globalisation. The text strongly defends the welfare State created in the Nordic countries in the latter half of the 20th century and warns of the threats which this system nowadays faces.

(12.02.2000 - Juhani Artto) Shipping companies in Finland pay higher than average taxes for a European Union Member State. Employment-related social security contributions are also higher than those of competitor countries in Europe.

The country's leading shipping companies have long threatened to outflag their ships if the government failed to lower costs to the European Union level. In January two major companies, Finnlines and Fortum, announced their intention to outflag 18 ships. If implemented, the plan would mean axing the jobs of several hundred Finnish seamen.

The companies, Seamen's union and Ministry of Transport agree on the need to lower costs by reducing the impact of taxation and social security contributions. In several European Union Member States the shipping companies pay virtually no tax at all and social security contributions are borne by the State.

(09.02.2000 - Juhani Artto) Aker Finnyards is to get a seven million euro subsidy for its business deal with a Greek shipping company. Despite the reluctance of Finnish Trade and Industry minister Erkki Tuomioja, the government's economic task force decided in favour of a subsidy.

The opposite decision would have threatened hundreds of jobs in the western Finnish town of Rauma. Transport minister Olli-Pekka Heinonen - who lives in the town - and Metalworkers' Union Secretary Erik Lindfors lobbied publicly for the subsidy which amounts to eight per cent of the total value of the deal.

Helsinki (09.02.2000 - Juhani Artto) The 16 million-member Union Network International (UNI) began its work on 1 January 2000. UNI joins together some 800 affiliated member unions with 16 million members in 136 countries.

The thirteen Finnish unions in UNI, representing more than half a million organised workers and salaried staff, emphasise the need to strengthen global solidarity. The spirit of solidarity in Finland is clear: the problems of employees in one country are the concern of all UNI organisations all over the world.

The organising rate in Finland is well over 80 per cent and there is a long tradition of a strong trade union presence. This means that the Finns do not expect to be mainly at the receiving end within UNI, but to play the role of giving support to others. Despite this, however, there are increasingly many examples of how the globalisation of business enterprises also constitutes a threat to workers in Finland in the industries covered by UNI.

(29.01.2000 - Juhani Artto) The Metalworker and Construction Worker Unions were the first to conclude collective agreements in the current negotiating round. These one-year agreements are valid until 31 January 2001.

The cost of the agreements is 3.1 per cent. In mid-January the government eased the path to these settlements by cutting income tax by an amount corresponding to a 1.0 per cent rise in real incomes.

With inflation expectations running at around 2.0 per cent or less, these two agreements will mean a slight increase in the real incomes of workers.

(08.01.2000 - Juhani Artto) Aker Finnyards, the number two shipbuilding company in Finland, announced on 7 January that it had won a tender for a passenger car ferry worth almost FIM one billion (EUR 160 million, USD 170 million). However, the winning tender assumes a government subsidy and does not consider official rejection of appeals to continue with subsidies.

Finland's trade and industry minister Erkki Tuomioja, in his immediate response, reminded Aker Finnyards that no money has been budgeted for shipbuilding industry subsidies and that it seems clear that none is likely to be allocated.

Tuomioja was astonished at the behaviour of Aker Finnyards as the company was well advised concerning the decision to abandon the subsidy policy.

Aker Finnyards has about 1,100 employees. The order from the Greek shipping company G A Ferries would provide employment to its workforce for one year.