Finland’s government made the surprise announcement of a new lockdown on 25 February in response to spiking rates of COVID infections in the capital region and the dominance in that part of the country of the B.117 “UK variant” of coronavirus. Students from year seven up are to go back to remote learning while restaurants and bars will face a three-week closure from March 8th to 29th. In addition, the government is considering declaring Finland’s second COVID-related state of emergency.
Measures to control the spread of COVID are of critical importance with the rise of more-infectious variants and continuing delays in vaccine production. The UK variant has become dominant in Helsinki weeks ahead of national health agency THL (Terveyden ja Hyvinvoinnin Laitos, the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare)’s predictions, reversing the decline of the outbreak in Finland. With the beginning of this new third wave, hospitals in the Uusimaa region of the country have begun moving intensive care patients to other health districts to free up capacity.
At the same time, the backdrop of the decision underlines how workers should be skeptical about the government’s motivations. The decision to skip over level two in the government’s three-tier plan is part of a feud between the national government and the Helsinki city government. Kookomus (National Conservative Party) Helsinki mayor, Jan Vapaavuori, is a notorious mask skeptic. His health advisory council decided last week to bring high school students back to class, even as THL warned of rising infection rates, putting students and school staff, alike, at unnecessary and avoidable risk.
At the same time, nine months ago it was the national government who brought students back for a superfluous two-week in-person session on short notice. As we reported at the time, that decision immediately followed a call by the Finnish Business Confederation to reopen schools as a first step to “reopen the economy” — the obvious conclusion is that the government’s decision was made with the interests of business owners, not the working class, in mind.
Now, with local elections scheduled for 18 April, all parties are posturing for their respective constituencies. None of the government’s actions wash away their record of high-profile corruption scandals, nor how the state is reacting weeks later than it could have. THL’s counterpart in Denmark warned about the potential of the UK variants to trigger the third wave weeks ago. Finland’s elected representatives, regardless of party, have hesitated to make decisive, proactive moves against the outbreak.
They have also ignored any kind of effective action to increase vaccine production. According to representatives of the Finnish pharmaceutical industry, Finland already has the manufacturing capacity to fill its own vaccine needs–but these companies are at work on lower-priority projects while the EU’s contracted partners fail to fill their production promises. In fact, these representatives already noted a year ago that the pharma giants would not meet demand. Across Europe and around the world, the pharmaceutical industry needs to be brought under the control of its workers and to democratically plan its production based on the needs of the global community.
Selling state assets
But the Finnish government, with a policy of selling off state assets, has done little to support domestic vaccine production and nothing at all to end the anarchy of capitalist production, even in the face of a global health crisis. Instead, it has followed along with the EU’s neo-liberal, big-business-led policy of handing billions to big companies and only complaining meekly when they break their promises.
As such, while we say it is correct to get students out of classrooms and patrons out of bars, workers should oppose the proposition to delay local elections, a decision about which is due next week. Elections are an opportunity for workers to deliver a rebuke to the parties of big business. Left and Communist candidates have the obligation to put forward a bold, community-led programme to democratically manage the COVID crisis–and to cut across xenophobic, racist false solutions put forward by a rising far-right.
But elections are just one tool in the toolbox of workers’ fight. If Sanna Marin’s government really were a “left” government, it would give teachers and students the authority to decide whether to pursue remote teaching. Nurses, doctors, and other health workers would work together to make sure resources were in place to handle the outbreak and the distribution of vaccines now and in the future. Workers’ jobs would be guaranteed, rather than the welfare system being deployed as a temporary measure to mitigate the effects of business and state layoffs.
The absence of a mass militant socialist voice for workers is the single biggest factor in the scale of the COVID crisis. Fighting unions, and a fighting party bringing them together, are the biggest fear of Finland’s capitalists and bureaucrats — one representative of Kookomus admitted as much when they called socialism “the biggest threat to the country” even as dozens die every week from COVID. When business and the state get in the way of the survival of ordinary people, those people have the obligation to band together and fight back for their lives. Help build that voice — join the CWI in Finland and across the world!