Strikes are supposed to be painful. Otherwise they don’t work.
In our present work culture, workers have very little leverage to counter the regression back to the bad old days of day labourers, robber barons and a life similar to that of tenant farmers. Zero hour contracts suggests a future that we will all share if things carry on this way. We are not quite at that point yet and luckily, we still have some good instruments remaining in our toolkit. Worldwide, our power to shape our work environment is diminishing year on year, but here in Finland and in other parts of Europe, places like my homeland of Ireland, unions and workers rights still stand reasonably firm to this regression.
Power, it is said is nothing without control.
What little tools that remain within our grasp are precious and should be used in a targeted and specific way to attain a specific goal. Very similar to what we working people have to do every single week with our money.
I am a practical guy so I have to ask the question : what was the goal of this one day strike? What is the outcome the unions are aiming for?
I agree 100% with the core issues why the country should be outraged and angry about these benefit and labour reforms but I cannot for the life of me imagine any policy reversal resulting from this single day of stoppage. This will not change the mind of a single politician or stop any well heeled lobbyists that are behind the scenes manipulating these policies. And every single person who attended that protest knew this.
Instead what we may see is damage being done to the credibility of the unions who will be seen as punishing unrelated small and medium businesses for some so-to-be-forgot superficial publicity. For larger firms, these single day stoppages will be merely factored into product pricing, no different from the way national holidays are factored in now.
Strikes are a weapon of last resort and they are supposed to hurt. They are supposed to target a specific sector or company and threaten of substantial loss of income to said company in question. These stoppages ought to be open ended to force capitulation or compromise from the opposing side. This is our power.
An inherent weakness in the neoliberal model, especially in larger publicly listed companies is their destructive focus on shareholder priorities and the sensitivity to the quarterly result event horizon. A fully sustained strike causes damage to all sides involved, businesses as well as workers, no one wants to suffer and this is why the tactic has worked in securing deals in decades past. Balance is not created by a secret force in the universe, it is demanded, suffered for and won.
People seem to have forgotten this.
I am an old school unionist born from old school union representative parents that did their good work during the hard and heavy 1960s, 70s and 80s, when most of our current rights were won. I remember a lot of those meetings that I was brought to when child care was not available, I remember the tactics.
On our side, the union’s inherent weakness lays in membership numbers, decline in goodwill from the public and general disinterest. Worldwide, union membership is on a worrying decline as people get disillusioned or is threatened not to join. When a union does act, it needs to achieve material results.
So announcing well in advance, a single day stoppage (surprise surprise on Friday) for a issue that unions has little purview over or input seems selfishly indulgent. It is going to be another mayday march, people passing by many empty office buildings on their way to the city centre. Its going to feel great to be on the streets with all its camaraderie but everyone will go home and Parliament will carry on as usual come Monday morning. It feels like we are wasting energy that could have been used on a specific problem, where ever that may be.
The argument in favour of a one day show of force like this could be to raise general public anger and union membership up. Which I am all in favour of. In which case, a cynical political strategist will also arrange another similar event closer to the regional elections. COUGH COUGH!
The will of the people needs to be heard on this issue. But there are better ways to do this.
If a population really wants to change government policy, then believe it or not, look for inspiration over in the US when last year, citizens opposed the repeal of Affordable Healthcare Act aka ‘Obamacare.’ by the hundreds and thousands continuously phoned, faxed ( yep they still use them) emailed, stood outside offices, attended meetings and generally harassed their local Member of Parliament, day in-day out until the MP conceded and voted the right way. It worked.
It worked over there and it is the best and most direct means to change government policy here too. Time and power is a precious commodity now-a-days so we should be using the correct tool for the job.
Unions are a perfect tool to keep businesses in check and People are the perfect tool to keep government in check.
Question is, would people do the same here? Will people call and harass their elected officials, metaphorically shake them until they do the right thing? My guess would be no. Unless of course they are directly affected themselves.
The unions, then, are filling the vacuum created by our own disinterest and lack of involvement. It is an ironic outsourcing of work from the population to an outside organisation, who in principle, opposes outsourcing.
If I was free to go, I would have headed to Helsinki today to join the protest. It would have been fun. But that would have been all. I hope you enjoyed your day. Come Monday morning, start the change yourself, Phone your local Members of Parliament, ask them difficult questions and demand satisfactory action.