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Fining a strike
by Thanos Kalamidas
2006-09-24 10:23:36
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I never understood why some people insist on proving true negative stereotypes. Tell me at least one boss that likes strikes. International powerful companies, like Wal-Mart and Carrefour, have gone all the way to forbid their employees becoming members of any kind of union. What else would you expect from them?

From the other side, the strike is the last weapon of the worker and thanks to strikes we have the five day working week, we have the eight-hour system, we have national health insurance and pensions. If there weren’t the strikes, companies would employ people only for a limited time just to do the necessary work and then fire them all without any compensation. In a few words, without the fights the workers gave for centuries we would be back in the 17th century where to be a worker was like being a slave.

Let me see, what does an employer like? Do they like to give all this money as percentage of their employees' health insurance and pensions? Do they like to have five days week and if somebody works more than the legal eight hours to pay extra? Would they like any of the ones in a very long list that protects the workers’ rights? The answer is definitely no. If they could dismiss all the above they would have higher, much higher profits. The workers? Lower, much lower!

In Finland, the workers have strong unions that had their fights mainly during the '70s and earned, for their members, all the rights that in some other countries had to go through blood and tears. Strikes are a rare phenomenon in Finland and, in that sense, especially comparing them with the Mediterranean countries, the employers are quite lucky. They have no idea what it means a general strike that lasts for over a week.

Mr. Leif Fagernäs, now the Director General of the EK, a confederation of Finnish industries, gave an interview for a newspaper where in a few words asked, demanded is a better word, the next government to change the legislation concerning strikes and set up a committee that will fine the unions for illegal strikes.

The man was obviously serious and not under any kind of medical help when he suggested that. Even when he added, the fine will be equal to the damage the strike causes to the companies. He obviously misspelled something, he meant his pocket not the companies.

First of all, how do you judge a strike illegal? When a company, despite all the legislation, fires a few thousand employees adding the cost to the government because the profits for the year are not as expected and the share holders started complaining, who’s going to pay that?

He continued by bringing the example of other Nordic countries that have no limit in those fines. Here, there is something wrong from the beginning and it is exactly the same thing as I mentioned before, who’s judging when a strike is legal and when it is illegal?

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Sambo2006-09-23 14:44:09
I think you are living in a rather left wing cloud cuckoo land. Is Ovi going to be skewed totally like sixdegrees?

Sand2006-09-23 16:06:22
The view that a strike can justifiably be determined illegal depends upon how punitive it might be to the general public and these strikes are usually in the public service industries. A strike is the business equivalent of war and the public is frequently the equivalent of collateral damage. I doubt that workers view strikes as anything but terrible necessities when their employer is unresponsive to the damage current working conditions are intolerable and in general, even if labor wins, the severe damages done are usually worse upon the employees than on the employer.

Thanos2006-09-23 17:21:17
Hi Sambo,

I hope your comment was a joke because we have nothing to do with a magazine that it has only one ideology, how to fulfill its owners ego and pocket.

In this article I expressed my opinion just like all the other writers do and that’s one of the issues regarding in this magazine, variety of opinions and discussions. Personally I never thought that I live in a left wing cuckoo land but I never thought that I live in the dark side of conservatism either. And for me trying to control the strikes or better forbidding the strikes is not a Finnish thing but international. And you must now that a lot of things you enjoy this moment in your working environment are a result of a series of strikes that started back in 1900!

However you are always welcome to send us an article with your opinions on modern market, working environment and be sure alike others we are going to publish it and we are going to publish it full!! ;)

Thanos2006-09-23 17:24:23

I absolutely agree with you, the truth is that many times the last decades has been a bad use of the strikes as weapon and damaged in the end the employees. Italy, Spain, Greece and their economy have been for long time the best example of the issue. Somehow I don’t have the feeling from what I have seen at least; that it has been the same has applied in Finland.

Sambo2006-09-24 08:50:01
No joke, You have given a rather simplistic view of the world. I never said you were connected with 6 degrees either. Just hoped you wouldn't follow them.

Often union solidarity is a load of shit. Where I work you are forced (or noone will talk to you, that sort of childish stuffs) to join the union and the union men make much noise about solidarity and protecting our fellows.

Horses shit. They expect support when "transport" branch went on their regular little strikes and to complain about this and that but a daughter company to us has just announced a cut of staffs at the same shared location where I am. Not a squeak of support from our company. Their (affected) persons union not made a squeak either and not did their colleagues at the "main" site.

So much for solidarity. OK maybe only 15 persons losing job but more important than unconnected transport drivers who expected we would give them support.

Not even a token marching away from the job to show we are unhappy.

Solidarity. Ha, in this affected company at the main site they have quite dangerous (for the industry) machines and badly designed old factory. Not many gards to protect you.

Quite a few people believe it is not right but yet no inspector or union man has done something. Wonder why.

Sorry I am not a writer.

Sand: often it is the union "high up" men who are also unreasonable. Many in shop branch want flexibile time to work (if not forced) later in the day or weekends. Many shops cannot afford it. Many public want to buy but union keeps government in check. Many students could take part time job but no, cannot do that.

Builders union announced it is to clamp down on black workers without tax. Sounds very high minded bit sounds more like they want to ensure tax money is paid as their union gets a percentage of declared official salary in contribution...

Thomas. Unions had a good idea in the beginning but more laws come from Brussels and government to protect. Finnish system of fining strikes is I think not common but not applied very well. I think there is some low maximum fine I read about 30,000 euros. Paper mills lost more than that and many (not all) earn more than city directors and directors. Union protects them but makes little noise over cleaners and people doing shitty works for smaller monies.

Making strike calls "secret" as Margaret Thatcher did to English coal diggers made a big difference. Hard for union man to "threaten" you then when of course you voted but they didn't see for who.

Bye !

Thanos2006-09-24 14:14:55
Hello Sambo,

Thanks for clearing this out, it made me shiver only the idea. After all, the negative attitude of magazines like that was partly our motivation to start Ovi magazine and emphasize that we do live in Finland and Finland might not be the paradise (no land is paradise) but we have a good life, good friends and we love the country.

Coming now to unions, I have a bitter experience myself working for nearly ten years for an international company with thousands employees all around the world. Even to mention the word union was a good reason to face the door accompanied by the security and I was in a good position. Believe it, it was part of the work contract. After long fights with the national unions (it was not in Finland but in four European countries since the company has ‘shared’ the head offices for tax reasons) an agreement came were all employees became members of the union paying a rather high yearly price. During the financial crisis of 90s the company started closing down departments around the world and of course sending people to the unemployment office, some thousands to be exact the union didn’t move but when in the last names included the name of one of the union ‘masters’ the union kept asking for a strike. That was at least unfair for everybody who had been sucked the last few months.

As you can see above, I do agree that unions have done damage and they have misused the strikes, occasionally for petit politics or personal promotion. I brought as well the example of Greece, Italy and Spain where their economy still suffers from the huge strikes that happened two decades ago and the threat of national strikes still threatens their economy since no fine exists there.

My article was intentionally simplistic more likely romantic because I still believe that you cannot forbid a strike as long the use of it is not for petit politics and from what you wrote it looks like there are still things in need for correcting.

BTW you are a writer, this was a very good comment and I wish you think about it again. :)

Sand2006-09-25 07:05:56
Questioning the benefits of the existence of unions on the basis of bad practice is similar to questioning the benefits of the existence of government on the basis of bad governments. The concept that workers should have some say on their working conditions and wages or be totally at the mercy of management is undeniable. In the eras when workers had no say working conditions were undeniably worse. Abuse of power from either side is indefensible.

Sambo2006-09-25 07:34:59
Often unions think they can do a better job. Unions are often rich. You don't see them (WITH THEIR MEMBERS) launch a competing company and doing the job better with all the benefits they demand. Wonder why.

Sand2006-09-25 08:00:51
What you are suggesting is that unions should move in the direction of replacing management. Unions are valuable to workers, when they are operating properly, by working with management to improve the conditions and the capabilities of both. Management traditionally objects to any force participating in their control and this is as true of government regulation intervention as it is true of their dislike of labor making demands. Business almost always has financial and political resources far over that of labor and it almost always uses that power to maximize its conditions. I do not blame business for this, only recognize that society in general does not always benefit from that control. Labor also has obligations to society but in general, labor represents a larger percentage of the population than management. This does not justify misuse of power by either sector but it also does not negate the benefit of labor and management working together for their mutual well being.

sambo2006-09-25 13:26:45
No, what I am saying is that if you (union) think you can do a better job than company (not including government rules) then why not put money where mouth is. Then see how quick you survive without rationing and not wasting time.

Sand2006-09-25 16:35:12
I am not in a union but I am familiar with a good deal of the history of the labor movement.
I wonder where you got the idea that I said that organized labor could replace management or claimed it could do a better job than all of management. The skills involved are quite different. But that does not mean that labor has nothing to add to how it should be treated by management. They both are essential to conducting a business but the viewpoints of each are important in doing so to benefit both.

sambo2006-09-25 16:38:03
Many unions think they know better than the management / employers association when they make their demands. That is what I said. So why dont they take a worker coperative and do it better and make more money

Sand2006-09-25 16:53:32
It seems to me that you have an odd idea about how a business is created and run. I doubt someone merely gets a bright idea to start any old business operation on the basis of a different conception of the relationship between labor and management. Even you must have some conception about understanding the various forces that are conjoined to make a successful business. This is not to say that labor could not operate a business successfully. It has happened many times but it is not a blanket solution for every disagreement between management and labor. You seem to think that labor should have no voice whatsoever in how it is employed.

Sand2006-09-26 07:15:05
Just one further comment on the general attitude of business to its employees. Business by its basic nature is driven to a major extent to utilize the various forces of its environment to maximize the return on its investment and it treats these components with the same severe logic to strengthen its capability. Suppliers, markets, production machinery, financial resources and labor are all regarded with the same cold blooded necessity for survival growth. But, although there are major exceptions, businesses in general do not acknowledge that labor is not the same kind of component as all the rest as it involves a crucial component of society and business is responsible for many of its hidden capabilities to the general welfare of society. This is an obligation that many businesses refuse to acknowledge and this is the core problem between business and society in general.

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