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JUHANI ARTTO
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General discussion at the SAK Congress:
Affiliated unions broadly agree on confederation's line


Tampere (07.06.2011 - Juhani Artto) The speeches at the SAK Congress general discussion - altogether some 70 contributions – conveyed convincing evidence that the "SAK movement" has reached a broad consensus on its goals and the means to achieve them. This is not to say that there aren’t any disagreements. There certainly are, but they do not divide the movement into warring factions and it is safe to say any disagreements over strategy or tactics are handled in a concrete and open manner.

The basic line to protect honest work, core labour rights and vulnerable people is beyond dispute. And the essential aim to strive for equality, in all its dimensions, is shared by all as a common goal. Without any doubt, everybody attending this Congress wants the grey or black economy to be tackled effectively. There is also active support to solve problems of atypical employment relations and guarantee equal social benefits for all, regardless of the nature of employment (permanent or temporary employment, self-employment). Not a single representative could be found who would understand employers' and pro-business politicians' demand to raise the minimum retirement age from the present 63 years.

However, nuclear power is one particular issue that divides SAK activists, as does climate and other energy policy issues. But in general there are not many issues that provoke serious division. One that does is this: Representatives disagree on what to do about SAK's network of regional offices. This is clearly a practical, not political let alone ideological question.

Many speakers spoke in favour of "sharper" action to safeguard interests but no one suggested that SAK unions should go far as to utter the ultimate weapon, strikes. The demands for "sharper" or "more effective" action for the common goals can rather be interpreted as expressions of trust towards the SAK as it has in recent years played its role as the largest union confederation.

Expectations towards its ability to solve wage and salary earners' problems are big, as are the challenges. Encouraging more young people in the movement to let their voice be heard more forcefully, was something echoed by many speakers. Again, this was hardly anything new. Best practices, in this respect, especially in the Construction Trade Union awakened interest over union limits.

Less attention was paid to deficiencies in gender equality than in many previous union Congresses in Finland. In principle the entire movement has a very clear attitude towards these deficiencies - gender pay gap etc. - but in practice, just now, the issue seems not to arouse any great passions and therefore is in a little bit of a passive mode for the time being at least.