It will be a long and winding road, but the union leaders see an urgent need for a new, more comprehensive confederation which is essential if they are to work for their members’ interests in a meaningful and vigorous way. The unions present at the meeting have a combined membership of 1.5 million and come from all Finnish trade union confederations.
Currently, there are three confederations in Finland. SAK, Central Organization of Finnish Trade Unions is the foremost confederation with a little over one million members. Blue-collar workers make up the vast majority of the workers affiliated to this confederation.
The second largest is the Finnish Confederation of Professionals STTK with 600,000 members. It mostly represents salaried employees.
Akava, the Confederation of Unions for Professional and Managerial Staff in Finland, has 585,000 highly educated members mainly in the academic and managerial professions.
There was even a fourth confederation TVK, but it went bankrupt in 1992. Most of its member unions then joined STTK.
SAK and STTK want to see the possibilities
In their statement the union leaders say that the share of work between unions and confederations should be clear and support the work of unions in the best possible way. There are several social and political issues that require action which could be better served by a united confederation than by a single union.
The new confederation would also make it possible to debate more freely on union structures and prevent unclear situations on limits of validity of collective agreements from occurring, the union leaders say.
The chairperson of SAK, Lauri Lyly, views the idea positively. ”There are excellent possibilities for success. The will of the unions is strong. And this time the picture is right: unions want a new confederation.”
Lyly says that people have noticed changes at the workplace, too. ”Jobs have changed. Today it is not easy to say clearly what work is blue-collar and what is white-collar. It would be good even if the confederations were under one roof”, Lyly claims.
STTK chairperson Antti Palola stresses that the ball is now in the unions’ court. It is the unions that will have to consider the next step, not the confederations. ”I have already said earlier that should we establish the trade union movement today, we would probably not have three confederations.”
Akava is sceptical
Chairperson of Akava, Sture Fjäder, is of another mind. He says that the highly educated will need their own confederation in the future also.
”We have seen that it is difficult to find joint goals for all wage and salary earners. If there were only one confederation, the voice of the highly educated would be lost completely”, Fjäder says.
At least one of the Akava member unions has said that it is willing to sign up to drafting the plan, The Union of Professional Engineers in Finland, IL.
”This is a train that we have to be on. The goal is to create a power big enough to balance the Confederation of Finnish Industries EK. Wage and salary earners have been too often on the losing side recently”, says IL chairperson Pertti Porokari.
A similar move to collect all resources under one roof has already been made on the employer’s side. The Confederation of Finnish Industries EK was established in 2005 when employers’ associations and industry’s organisations joined together.
The trade unions’ meeting was called together by Ann Selin, the chairperson of Service Union United PAM. She says that in order to take better care of members’ interests and get new members changes are needed in the trade union movement and especially within the confederations.
The goal of the ongoing discussion is to establish a completely new trade union confederation, not just to put together the existing ones. Plans are afoot to establish it by the beginning of 2016. In January 2015 an open meeting will be held for all 80 Finnish trade unions to discuss on the topic.
Helsinki (28.11.2014 – Heikki Jokinen)