Political strikes close Finnish ports

15 Mar 2024

In Finland, a right-wing government has launched the most serious attack on workers’ rights and social security in the history of the Finnish welfare state. The unions are fighting to defend the country’s social model. On 11 March trade unions began a wave of political strike action that is currently intended to continue for two weeks. The strikes will, among other actions, close all cargo handling in Finnish ports.

Finland regularly tops the rankings of the world’s happiest countries and is one of the most successful examples of the welfare state. At the heart of the Finnish labour model is the tradition of social dialogue between trade unions, employers, and the government, which has led to sectoral negotiations on collective agreements, tripartite negotiations on new legislative proposals and the expansion of the welfare state. But this social contract is being torn apart by the current government.

The government, supported by employers, is attacking the social security system, including unemployment benefits, and at the same time, weakening job security in several ways. They also want to change many basic elements of workers’ rights, such as the right to strike and the model of collective bargaining, bypassing the trade unions.

There is no history of many political strikes in Finland in recent decades. However, the government plans to start the massive reform package by restricting the right to strike in order to push through the other cuts without any real possibility of protests.

The participating unions are the Industrial Union, the Public and Welfare Sectors Trade Union JHL, the Finnish Transport Workers’ Union AKT, the Electrical Workers’ Union, the Finnish Construction Trade Union, the Service Union United PAM, Trade Union Pro, and ERTO. Other SAK trade unions will also demonstrate their solidarity by contributing financially. The unions will announce potential further sympathy measures separately.

“We apologise for any inconvenience caused to citizens by the strikes. However, this is very little compared to what the government is doing. The Finnish Transport Workers’ Union AKT is aware of its responsibility as a strong union and will therefore use its strength to oppose the government’s policy, which is aimed at undermining the rights of both the present and all future generations in working life and society,” says Ismo Kokko, AKT President and the President of the Nordic Transport Workers’ Federation NTF.

If the well-functioning system in Finland can be torn apart, it will lead to a downward spiral in other countries as well. Finnish trade unions are ready to fight and determined to win. Any support and international solidarity that puts pressure on the Finnish government to back down from its plans will be greatly appreciated.