I come to Helsinki twice a year, usually for my work trips. Most of the trips are about closed door conference hall meetings in a hotel. And Dinners at night usually with union partners and colleagues. Sometimes, I also get to meet with some young members, mostly in seminars, where I interact with them and inform them about trade union situation in South Asia. Last night was a change. A change in my usual schedule where 10 Finnish trade union members last night. They were part of the group who visited India 2 years ago for a 2 week long study tour. This time they hosted me for an informal get together and dinner. we had lots of discussions over some beer, tea, and some dinner. Informal dinner and beers are a great recipe for conversations. People open up more and share stories. We had a few interesting conversations and I share some observations here.
- Many of the union members campaigned really hard amidst their members to try and influence their voting decisions to the social democratic parties and other liberal parties. Their objectives were to be campaign against the rightist/conservative and xenophobic parties. But they say they did not succeed much. However, the social Democratic Party still won and will be the majority party in the ruling coalition. Workers, like India, here also do not vote on labor identity lines yet.
- I told them that in the seminars that I speak over the years, questions have changed. Earlier, about 4 years ago, the members used to ask me, how their union support is helping the movements in the global south and what can they do more? Now since last year the questions have changed and they ask, “Why should we support movements abroad, when our own situations are deteriorating?’ Why should we do solidarity projects, when we are ourselves losing jobs?”. The questions have turned more inward looking.
- Unions here are also very male dominated with aged individuals getting most of the leadership positions.
- The rate at which the unions are losing members are very high and the union movement will have to pull up their socks if they have the stop this process. The young members told me that they are disappointed at how the leadership is not realising this.
- There is an increasing class gap between those who work for the unions and the general members. The union officials get much better salaries than their members, which in turn is creating a sense of alienation from the real issues of the workers.
- A young worker, who lost a seat at the union board in an election (which she thought she deserved) highlighted at she was particularly angry at elderly leaders coming and consoling her saying, “you are still young, and will have more opportunities to be at the board”. She highlights that to them, her age mattered more than her hard work. She highlights that the union leadership do not reflect the union membership. While leaders are mostly men, and middle and older age, the membership was mixed with young members, women and men. To her the leadership should also reflect the same proportion.
Interesting learnings !!!!