Welfare Status 9.9 – Richest Finns and the postal strike

Welfare Status 9.9 – Richest Finns and the postal strike


Welcome to yet another episode of Welfare
Status – I’m Tatu Ahponen. Brexit might be the biggest topic of interest
in all of Europe, but big topics in Finland of the last two week, though, have been income inequality,
this debate being rekindled by a study showcasing a study showing that the richest citizens
are frequently willing to express elitist and hostile opinions about the poor and the
unemployed, as well as the future of the Finnish working class movement as the postal workers
went on a strike against a plan to massively cut their wages. So let us start by discussing briefly the
Centre Party and its leadership election. The Centre Party has selected a new leader,
choosing, from the two options, Trade Minister Katri Kulmuni over the Defense Minister Antti
Kaikkonen. While the differences between the two options
weren’t great and it all came down in a large part to a question of personalities
and different regions, as well struggles between Centre Party’s complex web of jockeying
factions, both candidates represented a turn to the left from the previous leadership,
in line with Centre’s current participation in a center-left government. Insofar as there was a difference, it was
in that Kulmuni represented more the sparsely-inhabited areas and North of Finland, while Kaikkonen
was more the candidate of mid-size towns and South of Finland. It remains to be seen how much either will
be able to rescue the Centre from the poll slump it is currently in, or whether Kulmuni’s
election will cause troubles to the government, as she was opposed to participation in this government. However, what has probably caused more waves
than this rather boring contest has been a prominent study on Finland’s richest citizens. Now, most people have, of course, have not
had the time to acquaint themselves with the recently-published book showcasing the study’s
results. The debate has revolved around a big story
in Helsingin Sanomat, Finland’s newspaper of record, discussing several findings from
this study. The people making this study have interviewed
90 persons belonging to the top 1 promille of Finns, regarding their incomes – the
richest of the richest, some having earned their wealth by themselves – insofar as
anyone can be said to have done so in our capitalist society – but several of them
having inherited most of it. One of the interviewees, whose wealth came
via inheritance, for instance, said that unemployment is ‘a question of attitude’. and that
“one part of society cannot provide for another part which doesn’t do anything.” Several of the richest bashed the trade union
movement extensively and generally advocated for a society that would no longer strive
for equality in the same measure as this one. Now, one might ask – is there anything surprising
in this? Certainly one would expect that the richest
citizens would espouse the values necessary and useful for amassing vast fortunes – the
values of a certain class. Nevertheless, perhaps what is notable is their
willingness to air their views to a source they know would showcase those views like
this, demonstrating the mental detachment of their worldviews from the earlier eras
of strong welfare state, when even the richest would showcase their charity, patriotism and
willingness to contribute to the society, rather than this prideful way of expressing
greed and selfishness. Of course, many people have rejected this
study in a hostile way, even before pretty much anyone has even had a chance to read
the book, asking whether an assessment of just 90 people can be representative. These hostile reactions, however, seem to
mostly just skirt the issue – after all, it’s not uncommon to hear right-wingers
expressing same opinions generally, so why would it be odd for the people those right-wingers
so like to defend to share those opinions? Another defense is that Finland is already
one of the most egalitarian societies in the world – which again ignores that that’s
faint praise in a world that has gone through imperialism, colonialism and neoliberalism
and where wealth differences inside countries have generally exploded during the last decades,
making it obvious that however egalitarian Finland might be compared to other countries,
that’s still a far cry from being actually as egalitarian as it should be. Whichever way you cut it, though, this is
a worthy topic of discussion, though we should probably be moving to discussing what to do
about this topic – not only for the sake of our poorest but also of the richest, as
it cannot be healthy for one’s soul to hold such grudges against the less fortunate. Fortunately, we now have a government that
can take the initiative in building a more just, more equal society that benefits us
all. As for the postal workers, well, this has
been a long time coming. The Finnish post office is another case of a state
bureau being turned into a state enterprise and then becoming increasingly inefficient
in time, along, of course, with the fact that post office’s operations are getting more difficult
with the reduction of customers combined with the continuing need to serve all areas of
Finland. The postal office has attempted to deal with
this by a variety of methods, including increasingly ridiculous plans for giving postal workers
additional tasks in addition to delivering the post. However, the most recent attempt of the post
to deal with this – moving 700 workers from the usual sectoral contractual agreement of
the postal sector, which offers postal workers good benefits, to a vastly more inferior agreement
negotiated by the Metalworkers’ Union during a time they had a separate collective agreement
for some distribution workers, which, among other things, would mean wage cuts by a third,
obviously was the last straw, especially when combined with the fact that the leadership
of the national post office has been showering themselves with extraordinary bonuses. Of course, the bonuses – dovetailing nicely
with the general discussions on income inequality, caused by the Helsingin Sanomat article – are
just the cherry on the cake, though one that gives room to a bigger debate on the compensations
of state-owned firms, but the inherent unfairness of just plain cutting someone’s pay by a
third is something that is obvious to everybody. Now, the strike itself, which lasted for roughly
a week, was eventually resolved with the help of solidarity strikes from other sectors,
such as transport workers, prompting the government to intervene and announce that the plan to
move the 700 workers to the inferior contract would be frozen. Still, larger questions regarding the future
of the workers’ movement remain. How many more cases there will be where companies
attempt to game the collective negotiation system – the bedrock of the Nordic welfare
state – by contractual shopping, and what will be done about it? And how will we ensure that state enterprises
don’t function like private ones when it comes to treating workers – though, in many
cases, they seem to do it worse – and would help be offered by returning to the old model
of services like postal office being run as state offices instead of enterprises, and
what would EU rules say? But that’s it for these two weeks – good
night, day or evening.

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