Finland: paper and pulp industry workers fight bosses’ lock-out

Union rejects ‘deal’ – Finnish SAK (TUC) must act!

Attacks on wages and conditions by paper and pulp industry bosses in Finland against their workforce was recently replied to by the industry’s main union, Paperiliitto, with a two-day strike, which involved 24,000 workers. The paper and pulp capitalists then organised a four week lock-out of the whole industry, one of Finland’s most important export sectors.

CWI members from Sweden have made three visits, so far, to discuss with the workers and to offer practical solidarity.

The following report, written on 17 June, is from their last visit.

Paper and pulp industry workers’ fight bosses’ lock-out

By Sunday 5 June, Paperiliitto’s negotiating delegation unanimously said ‘no’ to the ‘deal’ the employers had accepted.

"It was the same offer as the previous proposal by the employers, apart from the fact that the proposal about two days without sick-pay being removed", says Lauri Santaniemi, who sits on the Paperiliitto union executive committee, and is the safety officer at the Stora Enso-factory, in Oulu.

Hence, the lock-out continues, and new negotiations will not be restarted until next week. When the representatives of Offensiv (weekly paper of Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna, Swedish section of the CWI) met a group of 30 active unionists, from the 800 paper workers who are locked-out in Oulu, the day after Paperiliitto said ‘no’, there was a good and determination amongst the workers.

"We’ll go on strike the whole summer, if it’s necessary", said Raimo Hekkala, the Chief Shop Steward at the factory.

"Of course we’ll win. Any other option is not an alternative", added Leila Slotte, another activist.

Members of Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI Sweden) were invited to participate in the workers’ daily union meeting. Lauri Santaniemi went through the proposals for the agreement which the mediator had presented and which the union representatives turned down:

* To increase salaries. Which the unions accepted but which the paper and timber industry employers had refused to accept.

* The employers have to report 2 months in advance if they need workers by Christmas or mid-summer.

* The union and the employers should negotiate at a local level if external contractors are used. If they do not reach agreement mediation will take place with a "neutral" chairperson.

(Lauri Santaniemi remarked that this is how it works in the Labour Court and the unions always loose out because of the chairman).

* Higher fines for breaking industrial peace.

* The mid-summer bonus to be rejected and put into the increased wage for older workers. This proposal was accepted by the union.

* After local negotiations (under a non-strike agreement) the employer will be able to divide the vacation periods. Work in four shifts shall be introduced locally during summer. This means there will be significant extra work compared to the current system with six shifts during the summer. It means less time off.

Summing up, Lauri Santaniemi told the daily meeting, "The proposal means that there is almost only a worsening of conditions for the workers."

The meeting fully agreed that the only course of action for workers was to turn down the proposals.

The Finnish Prime Minister, Matti Vanhanen, has recently entered the fray and stated that mediator’s proposals to the union and bosses were "in line" with normal working practices. This remark did not come as a surprise to the workers we met.

"It [the governing party] is a right-oriented party", said Timo Nikula, who also pointed out that none of the main parties supports the locked-out workers.

Timo Nikula went on to explain that strike-breakers have been working as guards and cleaners. The companies Falck and Sol are organising the scabs.

"We have stopped the [scab] guards but I don´t know if the cleaners are stopped or not", reported Ari Itämies, an elected representative at Paper Machine Number 7.

Bosses’ want to lower wages

We asked the union activists, "What are the demands of the employers really about?"

"Today we already have a lot of contractors. Now they also want to outsource tasks like cleaning, patrolling etc, as a way of putting pressure on salaries. Our cleaners have a much higher salary than other cleaners. More contractors would eventually mean that 30 percent of our members would be sold out", explains Timo Nikula.

The Oulu Factory, which produces fine paper (when it is in operation), is very profitable. Stora Enso made a profit of 708 million euros, last year, and their factory in Oulu was the most profitable. "The cost of wages is merely 6 percent, which is nothing really for them", said Timo Nikula.

After the decision by the union to reject the mediator’s proposals, last Sunday, there were no new dates put in the schedule for a second round of negotiations.

"What do you do to reach out to the public, are there any demonstrations under preparation?" we asked.

"We haven’t planned any demonstrations. We have our website. The local radio and different papers have been writing about our situation. The opinion has changed a little bit to our advantage", says Raimo Hekkala.

We told the activists, from the CWI’s experience in Sweden and internationally, about the positive effects which demonstrations and protest action has for workers in dispute, helping to shore up their determination to fight etc. In this current dispute, support from the public is good and shows what more can be done.

Paperiliitto’s request for sympathy-strikes was answered by unions but the sympathy actions were only directed against the paper industry and the timbre industry employers, which are decreasing the effect of action.

The biggest effect will probably be when the wood workers’ union have their sympathy-strike, which will stop production at the plywood factories and other workplaces.

The construction workers’ and the electrician unions’ blockade will stop all investment work at the pulp and paper factories, while the salaried employees’ union, ERTO, blockade, will halt the wood and paper industry.

"We didn’t ask for support until last week. The other unions are planning what to do. We are a strong union and first we thought we didn´t need any support, but now we’ve told the whole SAK (Finnish TUC) that we need their support," says Lauri Santaniemi.

Unfortunately, by Monday, 20 June, SAK decided not to carry out any joint action by all its member organisations. The union federation argued that it was up to each and everyone one of the unions to decide on their action.

In our RS/CWI leaflet, distributed in Finland, we argued that SAK should give notice for a national strike day, including demonstrations and general meetings to give support to Paperiliitto workers, who are fighting a very important struggle.

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June 2005