MASS UNEMPLOYMENT CONTINUES DESPITE STATISTICAL MANIPULATION, IMPERIALIST MILITARY SPENDING INCREASES, REAL WAGES AND LIVING STANDARDS FALL
In 2022 and 2023 the living standard of the Finnish population has fallen. The social-democrat government has continued cuts to social programs and healthcare, has increased military spending, and has used repressive measures against workers.
Finland is a country suffering in the late stage of capitalism, imperialism. In the imperialist stage, mass unemployment has become a permanent phenomena.
The Finnish government has attempted to decrease unemployment numbers essentially by manipulation of statistics. According to the government statistical office “an employed person is someone who has worked at least one hour during the week in question” (see https://www.stat.fi/meta/kas/tyollinen.html)
With such low criteria for “employment”, they can surely eliminate mass unemployment? It is completely obvious that a person working for only 1 or few hours per week, cannot earn enough to survive, and cannot be considered employed.
The government also changed the way they report employment numbers. Employment figures are now calculated based on the employment of persons between 20 and 64, which eliminates 18 and 19 year olds from the statistic. By doing this, the government has achieved a 6% higher employment rate, although according to the statistical office there are “somewhat more unemployed than last year” (see https://www.tilastokeskus.fi/julkaisu/cl89um7w3si2v0bvyot6yxybv)
While billions have been systematically cut from healthcare, the Finnish government has spent a billion euros to arm Ukraine and has planned to spend approximately four billion during the course of 2022 and 2023 to support Ukraine further.
(Sources: Finland’s additional support to Ukraine and TKS #3/2023, Ktp tuomitsee Suomen Nato-jäsenyyden ja tukee työtätekevien palkkataistelua)
Finnish military spending was increased by 2 billion last year, on top of the new fighter jets which cost tens of billions, the new war ships which cost 2 billion and the provocative “wall” which Finland is building on its Russian border. (See https://yle.fi/a/74-20002911 and https://www.ktpkom.fi/yleinen/ktp-vaatii-asevarustelurahat-sosiaali-ja-terveydenhuoltoon-ja-inflaation-korvaamiseen-tyovaestolle/)
While the people suffer from social problems such as mass unemployment, lack of healthcare and falling real wages, the government is stubbornly putting the people’s money into imperialist war-mongering and armaments on the instructions of Nato generals. They keep saying we as a society cannot afford healthcare, we cannot afford public services, we cannot afford retirement, we cannot afford care for the elderly, we cannot afford free university education and we certainly cannot afford better wages or working conditions: yet somehow we can afford all these imperialist weapons! The truth is, the government’s warlike imperialist policy is devastating the country.
Real wages have decreased by more than 4%. Largely as a result of the sanctions against Russia inflation has reached 10% and food prices have increased by 20%. The reformist social-democrat leadership of the Finnish industrial union accepted a wage increase of 5.5% over two years, which does not cover the losses suffered by the workers. Living standards and real wages will continue to fall. For context, “For example the wages in the technology and industrial field in Germany will rise by 8.5 percent in two years…” (TKS #2/2023 “The industrial union accepted a discount in real wages – wage struggle continues in other trade unions” [Teollisuusliitto hyväksyi reaalipalkkojen alen – palkkataistelu jatkuu muissa ammattiliitoissa])
Despite the capitulation of the Industrial Union, whose reactionary leadership also voiced support for the governments decision to join NATO, other unions have launched strikes. Practically the bureaucratic reformist social-democrat leadership has only accepted to do so, under heavy pressure from activists and ordinary members.
SITUATION OF THE HEALTHCARE WORKERS
SITUATION IN 2020 AT THE START OF THE PANDEMIC:
In 2020 the Union of Health and Social Care Professionals newspaper wrote:
“The situation is worsening even more in the social and healthcare field. Well-being at work has decreased somewhat further in the last 6 months, people are scared at work and nearly 90% are considering changing their profession. The covid pandemic period has been hard for the staff. Coercive measures have been used, but they have not been compensated… a number of coercive measures have been applied to health and safety professionals… 34% have had their annual holidays postponed, canceled or their duration changed, 23% have been transferred to another workplace or tasks and 16% say that the notice period [the time before you are allowed to quit your job~MLT] has been extended.
Respondents were also asked how the employer has compensated for the consequences of coercive measures. Almost all (97%) state that nothing deviating from the normal working conditions has been compensated for…
Almost half (48%) are actively planning a change of field, and a total of 88% have considered it. Only 23% of nurses believe that they will be able to cope with tasks in the health and social care sector until the end of their working career. There are big problems with the attractiveness of the field, and 64% would not go into the field if they were starting their studies now.” (Tehy: Broad survey: nothing about the pandemic has been compensated, an increasing amount are interested in choosing a different profession [Tehyn laaja kysely: Koronasta ei ole korvattu mitään, alan vaihto kiinnostaa yhä enemmän])
THE HEALTHCARE STRIKES OF APRIL 2022
The situation had become intolerable in April 2022 when the Union of Health and Social Care Professionals (Tehy) and Finnish Union of Practical Nurses (SuPer) went on strike for 2 weeks. The strike included “approximately 25 000 nurses in 6 hospital districts”. They also started demonstrations in the cities of “Helsinki… Turku, Oulu, Tampere, Kuopio and Jyväskylä” (Tehy: Demonstrations by Tehy members started [Tehyläisten mielenilmaukset alkoivat])
The nurses complained of bad working conditions, exhaustion, shortage of workers etc. but mainly demanded higher pay. The employers did not accept the demand and instead used demagogic attacks against the nurses, as always happens. The nurses were attacked as “selfish” and “endangering patients”, although according to the nurses themselves, the patients are endangered every day by the lack of resources and exhaustion of the workforce, and the government and other employers have never cared about that.
“Tehy and SuPer confirmed the starting date of a second wave of strikes… 35 000 nurses in 13 hospital districts are planned to go on strike.” (Tehy: The first strike ends this friday – the second begins on April 20th [Ensimmäinen lakko päättyy perjantaina – toinen alkaa 20. huhtikuuta])
THE GOVERNMENT PASSES A MEASURE OUTLAWING THE STRIKES
To crush the justified strike action of the nurses, the government quickly began preparing an emergency law to outlaw the strikes. The nurse unions responded in their declaration on April 4th:
“According to the nurse unions, the government’s proposal for a law on ensuring patient safety during the health care labor strike is a mockery of legislative work. The organizations state in their statement that the government’s proposal is based only on incorrect and unidentified information from the other side of the labor dispute about the inadequacy of the protection work [protection work means necessary measures that healthcare workers must take in order to protect patient’s during strikes~MLT]. The strike is legal, where sufficient protection for the patients is provided and the need for it is constantly negotiated. The country’s government is actually enacting a forced labor law against women [most Finnish nurses are women~MLT].
According to Tehy and SuPer, the patient safety law, which significantly interferes with the basic rights of employees, i.e. the right to strike action and personal freedom, and in practice leads to the breaking of the strike, should not be enacted…
– The only purpose of the Forced Labor Act is to break the legal labor struggle of nurses. This is the last straw for nurses. I have received a huge number of messages from members over the last night. Their main content is the statement that this is the last straw, why work in a profession that the policy makers in Finland hate so much, says Millariikka Rytkönen, chairman of Tehy
The organizations state in their declaration that several healthcare units such as intensive care units, operating rooms, etc. have had a very significant shortage of nursing staff for several years. Several shifts have been regularly run understaffed. The same situation has existed not only in specialized medical care but also in primary health care and services for the elderly. Under normal circumstances, the employer has not considered the shortage of nurses to be a factor endangering patient safety.
– Both political decision-makers and employers are aware of the level of patient safety during normal times. In everyday life, nurses are left to survive on their own, but when we try to improve the working conditions and pay in the industry by legal means, forced labor is the result, says SuPer’s chairman Silja Paavola…
Nursing organizations also criticize the process of drafting the law in harsh terms.
– Today, April 4, 2022, at 11:00 a.m., we were heard at an event where the legislator proposed forcing nurses to work. The invitation to the hearing arrived on Sunday, April 3, 2022 at 4:39 p.m. On Sunday, April 3, 2022, we only received the board’s draft presentation at 18:43 [the union had significantly less than a day to draft a response~MLT]. It is clear that with this schedule it is impossible to respond thoroughly and sufficiently comprehensively to such a large and important legislative project that affects basic rights, state Tehy’s executive director Else-Mai Kirvesniemi and SuPer’s advocacy director Anne Sainila-Vaarno… the representatives of the nurses whose basic rights are severely restricted are not even given adequate time to prepare an answer and be heard in the case.
– In a state governed by the rule of law, the law would not be enacted in this way, they say.” (Tehy and SuPer: Forced labor law should not be passed, the proposal includes several large problems [Tehy ja SuPer: Pakkotyölakia ei tule säätää, lakiesityksessä lukuisia isoja ongelmia]) https://www.superliitto.fi/viestinta/tiedotteet-ja-kannanotot/tehy-ja-super-pakkotyolakia-ei-tule-saataa-lakiesityksessa-lukuisia-isoja-ongelmia/
“Tehy and SuPer announce that they are withdrawing their notice of strike action, which was issued on March 17, 2022. According to the announcement, the strike was supposed to start on April 1, 2022. Minister Tuula Haatainen postponed the start of the strike… by two weeks, so that there would be more time for mediation. Tehy and SuPer have voluntarily postponed the start of the strike after Easter, so that there would be enough time for mediation.
Despite Minister Haatainen’s transfer decision and Tehy’s and SuPer’s voluntary transfer, mediation activities have not resulted in more than one settlement proposal in more than six weeks. The settlement proposal of the national mediator would not have brought any kind of improvement to the salaries and working conditions of the nursing staff. In our opinion, the settlement proposal was of an even lower standard than the previous agreements…
During the mediation – even before the start of the first strike – a patient safety law has been prepared under the leadership of Minister Lindén… Minister Lindén has succeeded in making the nurses’ strike ineffective with their legislative actions. Because of this, the employer also has no desire to promote reconciliation.
We do not consider it expedient to start a strike, which the Minister of the Government has already rendered ineffective in advance.” (The announcement by Millariikka Rytkönen of Tehy and Silja Paavola of SuPer to the employers and the mediation board about the cancellation of the second phase of the strike [Tehyn Millariikka Rytkösen ja SuPerin Silja Paavolan ilmoitus työnantajalle ja sovittelulautakunnalle lakon toisen vaiheen perumisesta])
In August of 2022 the nurses again said they would strike in a more limited capacity in intensive and other specialized healthcare units the next month in the Turku University Hospital, Southern Helsinki homecare unit, Intensive care unit of Oulu University Hospital and the Oulu homecare unit. Approximately 20 nurses planned to strike in the region of Tavastia Proper and 200 in Southwest Finland.
The minister of labor Tuula Haatainen ordered the strike to be post-poned by two weeks. Apparently the minister of labor is allowed to do that. Practically every strike of the nurses, including the ones in April, was always post-poned by two weeks.
The hospital districts of Tavastia Proper, Southwest Finland, Northern Ostrobothnia demanded that the Helsinki district court prevent the strikes. As a result the court actually ruled against the nurses and on September 14th the unions were banned from starting the strikes in the cities of Hämeenlinna, Oulu and Turku. The court stated that if the ban was violated, the unions would have to pay a fine of one million euros per hospital district each.
The Finnish state media reported that:
“The District Court of Helsinki has accepted the demands of three hospital districts for a temporary security measure, which forbids the nurse unions Tehy and Super from starting a strike in the intensive care units of the hospital districts next week and the following week.” (The Helsinki district court prevented all the strikes of intensive care nurses in the coming weeks – the threatened penalty fines are six million euros [Helsingin käräjäoikeus kielsi kaikki tuleviksi viikoiksi kaavaillut tehohoitajien lakot – uhkasakkoja yhteensä kuuden miljoonan euron edestä])
STRIKE IN KOTIKANKAA
After this fascistic measure one strike still took place in Oulu. The newspaper of the Communist Workers’ Party reported:
“The forced labor laws proposed by Marin’s five-party government and approved by the parliament have not discouraged the nurses’ unions Tehy and SuPer. Neither have the strike bans of the judiciary
which threatened fines made the nurses give up their demands for a salary increase, the salary program and the improvement of working conditions. Tehy and SuPer started the nurses’ strike on Tuesday, September 27 in home care unit of Kontinkankaa-Myllyoja at the Kontinkankaa welfare center in Oulu. The strike continued for four days and ended on Saturday 1.10. The District Court of Helsinki has previously banned strikes by Tehy and SuPer in three hospital districts and home care in Helsinki
with the threat of fines of millions of euros.” (TKS #11/22, The nurses don’t surrender, labor struggle continues [Hoitajat eivät luovuta, työtaistelu jatkuu])
THE DEMONSTRATIONS AGAINST THE “EMERGENCY LAW”
“Nurse unions Tehy and Super organized a demonstration in Helsinki against the government’s proposed patient safety law on Friday.
Members of the unions marched from Citizen square to the parliament building, on the steps of which there was an emotional speech led by Tehy’s Millariikka Rytkönen and Super’s Silja Paavola.
A strange situation was seen in front of the parliament building when a Social-Democrat member of parliament Jukka Gustafsson arrived to speak to the nurses who demonstrated in the rainy weather.
Gustafsson, who introduced himself as a long-term union activist [sic], tried to gain the sympathy of the nurses.
-I actually came here because I want to listen and experience the feelings you have, Gustafsson said.
Judging by everything, the nurses standing in the rain did not warm to the sympathies of the Social-Democrat, but started shouting loudly demanding “higher pay”.
Gustafsson lost his temper and raised his hands as if to fight back the screams.
-Shut up! Gustafsson shouted into his microphone.
…The demonstrating nurses did not shut up, but shouted even more loudly.” (SDP parliament member Jukka Gustafsson lost his temper and demonstrating nurses: “Shut up!” [SDP:n kansanedustaja Jukka Gustafsson hermostui mieltään osoittaneille hoitajille: ”Hiljaa!”])
After strikes had been outlawed, the nurses still kept fighting. The nurses decided they would start quitting their jobs en masse as a form of pressure on the capitalists and the government.
“The board of representatives of the social and healthcare trade union Tehy reached a decision about new labor struggle measures last night. The board decided to implement mass resignations of nurses in special and intensive care” (Tehy: Mass resignation proceeds… [Tehy: Joukkoirtisanoutuminen etenee, koko kunta-alalle julistetaan tilapäisen siirron kielto])
One nurse who signed the declaration to resign from their job said:
“I see no other option at this point than to put my name on paper and thereby try to speed up this difficult situation”
Another nurse said:
“the position and benefits of our nurses will not improve if radical decisions are not made. So I’m happy to be part of this” (Tehy’s busses travel around Finland – nurse Tuija Turunen agreed to resign: “I don’t see any other option” [Tehyn matkailuautot kiertävät nyt eri puolilla Suomea – irtisanoutumiseen sitoutunut sairaanhoitaja Tuija Turunen: “En näe muuta vaihtoehtoa”])
An agreement was finally reached in October 2022. The nurses are supposed to receive a wage increase of around 17%* in the course of five years: 2.5% for 2022, 4.6% for 2023, 5.4% in 2024, 2.8% in 2025, 0.8% in 2026 and 1.2% in 2027.
(*HS, Agreement was reached in the wage struggle of the nurses [Hoitajien palkkakiistassa syntyi sopu])
STRIKE OF SERVICE AND RETAIL WORKERS
The newspaper of the Communist Workers’ Party reports:
“The service industry union PAM and retail workers were on a two-day strike from 9–11. February . The strike included 16,000 workers in 160 stores.
The trade union says that it became aware of several cases where the employer had acted improperly and prevented employees from exercising their right to strike, even though the strike is a constitutional right. According to the union, communication about the strike had also been disrupted and striking workers had been threatened with sanctions.
A new two-day strike would begin on Monday morning, February 13, if no agreement is reached in the labor dispute on Sunday, February 12. There would be 47 distribution centers and wholesale warehouses within the scope of the strike, through which supplies are delivered to the stores of Kesko, S Group, Lidl and other stores. About 4,000 employees would go on strike.
An even wider strike would be coming from the 16th to the 18th of February. 26,000 workers and 415 shops would then be on strike…
The goal of the workers in the retail sector and the trade union is a one-year collective agreement and a salary increase of 200 euros for everyone.” (Teollisuusliitto hyväksyi reaalipalkkojen alen – palkkataistelu jatkuu muissa ammattiliitoissa, TKS #2/2023)
THE STRIKE OF TRANSPORT WORKERS AND SYMPATHY STRIKE OF POST WORKERS
“The Automotive and Transport Workers’ Union AKT will start strikes lasting at least six days on Wednesday, February 15th , if an agreement acceptable to the employees in the working conditions and salary dispute is not reached before then. The strikes concern several contract areas of the union.
The strikes include the stevedoring sector… the trucking sector… the tanker and oil product sector… and the shipping and warehouse terminal operations sector from February 15th to 22nd.
In Finland, the purchasing power of employees only continues to weaken, as real earnings already fell by more than 4 percent last year. The smallest wage increases in Europe are now coming to Finland.” (TKS #2/2023 Ibid.)
The post and logistics workers went on a sympathy strike to support the transport workers. The logistics trade union PAU announced on February 16th that “PAU supports AKT – the sympathy strike begins”
POSSIBLE RAILWAY WORKERS STRIKE
According to the Finnish state railway corporation (VR) the “railway workers’ trade union (RAU) is threatening to stop all railway traffic starting next monday (March 30th) until further notice.” (A strike of the railway sector will possibly stop railway traffic on monday [Rautatiealan lakko pysäyttää mahdollisesti junaliikenteen maanantaina])
According to the state media the railway workers mainly demand the ability to rest properly between shifts. To me this sounds like the employer wants them to do “double shifts” i.e. work two shifts back to back or almost back to back. (Solution to the labor dispute of railway men is sought over the weekend… [Veturimiesten työriitaan etsitään ratkaisua viikonlopun aikana…])
Despite the bureaucratic reformist social-democrat leadership of various unions, which don’t want to go against the capitalists or the social-democrat government, there is significant pressure from workers themselves which explodes into strikes. The living standard of the workers will continue to fall and the government will continue its anti-people policy, thus creating more resistance. These processes are part of the general crisis of imperialist capitalism. We must give our support to the workers, organize and educate ourselves.
Capitalism has no future, the future belongs to the workers!
All the Finnish texts translated by MLT (Marxist-Leninist Theory blog).
The nurses don’t surrender, labor struggle continues [Hoitajat eivät luovuta, työtaistelu jatkuu], Työkansan Sanomat #11/2022