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NEWS, INTERVIEWS AND ANALYSIS ON THE SAK 18TH CONGRESS ON 6-8 JUNE IN TAMPERE
- by SAK in cooperation with the Trade Union News from Finland


SAK 18th Congress gets underway in Tampere:
Youth well represented in several union delegations


SAK, Tampere (06.06.2011) SAK's 18th Congress has opened at Tampere Hall. The affiliated unions, which make up the Confederation are represented by 270 delegates, coming from various regions of the country. One delegate lives as far north as Kilpisjärvi, in Northern Lapland, whereas 12 per cent of the delegates come from Helsinki. Three delegates have immigrant backgrounds. SAK's largest member organization the Trade Union for the Public and Welfare Sectors JHL has, with its 53 delegates, the largest delegation. The Service Union United PAM has 49 delegates and the Metalworkers' Union 36. Each one of the smallest unions has only one representative.

Shop steward Pentti Mäkinen expects thorough and full-going discussion on SAK's goals

SAK, Tampere (06.06.2011) "I hope that participants will have a broad-based and thorough discussion on SAK's goals for the next few years. And following intense debate, serious decisions must be taken to tackle current problems affecting wage and salary earners." This is how Pentti Mäkinen, one of the most experienced delegates at the SAK 18th Congress, described his expectations on Monday morning when entering the Tampere Hall, the venue of the congress.

SAK affiliated unions put forward 58 initiatives to the Congress

SAK, Tampere (06.06.2011) Efforts to improve the status of temporary employees and the self-employed as well as developing the skills of wage and salary employees are some of the major issues covered in the initiatives put forward to the 18th SAK Congress by the affiliated unions. Several initiatives also propose that the working conditions of shop stewards and safety representatives are improved. The unions have put forward a record number of initiatives - altogether 58 - with the Metalworkers' Union being the most active with 20 initiatives.

Young singers open the 18th SAK Congress

SAK, Tampere (06.06.2011) The 18th SAK Congress was opened on Monday morning in Tampere Hall by an ensemble of five young singers. The a cappella ensemble ‘Lauluyhtye Viisi’ has performed at hundreds of concerts and company events since winning a competition for vocal groups in Tampere in 2005.

President of the Republic Tarja Halonen:
“Support for employees in India also has an impact
on the competitiveness of Finnish labour.”

SAK, Tampere (06.06.2011) “The labour market is changing all over the world, and to manage this change the trade union movement needs stronger international cooperation,” declared Tarja Halonen, President of the Republic of Finland, in her speech to the 18th SAK Congress on Monday. She underlined that solidarity to employees in India is not only an expression of international solidarity, it also offers the means to influence the competitiveness of Finnish labour.

ETUC General Secretary Bernadette Ségol:
"A return to protectionist barriers offers no future"

SAK, Tampere (06.06.2011) “Withdrawing behind national borders offers no sort of constructive solution to organised labour,” emphasised Bernadette Ségol, ETUC General Secretary, in her speech at the SAK Congress on Monday in Tampere. This temptation to withdraw behind national borders exists in many European countries, also in Finland. "But self-protection should not make us blind to present and future realities. A return to protectionist barriers offers no future. It only prepares the foundation for increased nationalist, populist and xenophobic social movements. We are seeing this happening with fear and dismay in many European countries, including your own," warned Ségol.

Lauri Lyly, the President of SAK:
Elimination of inequality must be the core goal
of the union movement


SAK, Tampere (06.06.2011) The growth of inequalities between citizens was one of the main issues in Lauri Lyly’s speech on Monday, at the SAK Congress. Lyly is the President of SAK. The income gap between the rich and the poor has widened, as has the gap between the life expectancies of people with different levels of income.
"Life expectancy for the lowest fifth in incomes has remained stable, whereas life expectancy in all other income groups has risen. In 2007, the gap between the highest and lowest fifths was 12 years for men and 7 years for women." - "This kind of development does not please us. The success of a welfare society can only be measured by the way it treats the most vulnerable people", Lyly strongly stressed. He sought to remind his audience that the trade union movement has traditionally been - and also wants to continue to be in the future – a champion of vulnerable people and defender of equality.

Matti Huutola, the Vice President of SAK:
Transnational rules are needed to prevent negative pay competition


SAK, Tampere (06.06.2011) Matti Huutola, the Vice President of SAK, talked about the various aspects of labour market models in his presentation, on Monday afternoon, at the SAK 18th Congress. "Up until recently our labour market model has been a national model. Its basis was created after the war and its Golden Era was experienced in the 1970s." Since then employers have pushed hard to add flexibility as a cure "for almost all and any economic disturbances", such as the oil crisis of the 1970s, inflation and unemployment, Huutola outlined.

The organizing rate of immigrant labour is on the rise

SAK, Tampere (06.06.2011) According to the latest data, SAK's affiliated unions have 18,000 rank and file members who are of immigrant background. The organizing rate (trade union membership) of immigrant labour while still lower than among native Finns has, happily, clearly risen significantly during the 2000s. The unemployment rate among immigrants is three times higher than for employees born in Finland. The SAK Congress heard this and other updated data and conclusions on immigrant labour issues on Monday afternoon in a speech by Eve Kyntäjä and Mikko Koskinen. Kyntäjä is SAK's expert on multicultural and immigrant labour issues, and Koskinen is an expert on education and training at the Service Union United PAM.

Two first timers from the JHL express their satisfaction
with the Congress


SAK, Tampere (06.06.2011) Like many others Erja Starck and Merja Latvaniemi are for the first time official representatives of their own union at a SAK Congress, which are held once every five years. Both are experienced trade unionists. They are organized in the Trade Union for the Public and Welfare Sectors and have been elected as shop stewards in their respective work organizations. Starck and Latvaniemi feel like they are among people who belong to the same "family" at the Congress. They are especially happy with the speeches where representatives of the private sector unions have strongly spoken out in favour of public services.

Cross section of SAK activity during last five years

SAK, Tampere (07.06.2011) Decisions are now being taken on how the SAK should formulate its programme and conduct its activities for the next five years. What happened during the past 5-year period? SAK and its environment have changed in many respects since 2006, when the previous Congress was held. A video presents a cross section on the past five years, from SAK's perspective. This video was made and submitted by SAK and was aired before Congress participants on Tuesday morning, June 7.

Lauri Lyly re-elected as President of SAK

SAK, Tampere (07.06.2011) The SAK Congress elected Lauri Lyly (58) on Tuesday to continue as the President of SAK for 5 years. The election was unanimous. He has been the President of SAK since May 2009.
Matti Huutola (52) continues as Vice President of SAK's Executive Board. He was elected by the new Executive Board at its first meeting.
The new Executive Board, elected by the Congress, consists of the President, the Vice President and 18 members. Tuire Santamäki-Vuori (58) continues as the Chairman of the General Council. Doctor of Science (Economics) Santamäki-Vuori has held the position since 2001. She is the President of the Trade Union for the Public and Welfare Sectors. As the Vice-Presidents of the General Council were elected Pia Yli-Heikuri from the Service Union United PAM and Mika Vuori from the Metalworkers' Union. The new General Council has 119 members. All affiliated unions of SAK are represented in the Council.

SAK's Duunari prize winner Reetta Keränen:
"One has to appreciate one's own work, as well as our pupils"

SAK, Tampere (07.06.2011) This year, SAK's Duunari prize went to 24-year old Reetta Keränen for her energetic promotion of the appreciation of work in the caring industry. The practical nurse teaches music and works as an instructor at a special school for physically disabled children and youth in Helsinki. She is also a union activist in the Trade Union for the Public and Welfare Sectors JHL. "It’s important to appreciate one's own work, as well as our pupils, before seeking appreciation from the outside," maintains Keränen.

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


SAK, Tampere (07.06.2011) 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.

Nura Farah welcomes the minimum EUR 1,800 per month goal

SAK, Tampere (07.06.2011) Nura Farah’s first comment on the SAK Congress is: “Good speeches”. By whom? “By both presidents - Lyly and Halonen.” She is, of course, referring to the President of SAK and the President of the Republic of Finland. And her second: “At least EUR 1,800 should be the minimum monthly pay. I like concrete goals.” Although she earns a little more than that as a laboratorian, some of her colleagues are paid less for working full time. “It’s difficult to survive in Helsinki with the rent, bills and other expenses, for example, if you earn less than EUR 1,800 per month.”

Russian FNPR and Ukrainian FPU have organized
millions of employees


SAK, Tampere (08.06.2011) In attendance at the SAK Congress are representatives of its sister organizations from 14 countries. Natalia Klimova came from Russia where she works as the Chief expert at the union confederation FNPR's international department. The 25 million rank and file member FNPR has good working relations with the political leadership of the country, she says. "It has been helpful in our efforts to improve, and also to protect, the social security system." Recently this help was really needed when the association of powerful oligarchs launched an attack on both the pension system and the health insurance system. The attack was so fierce that FNPR organized an extra Congress to handle the problem. At the Congress Prime Minister Vladimir Putin promised to the resist the reforms demanded by the oligarchs.

SAK's search for a role in the labour market system goes on

SAK, Tampere (08.06.2011) The union confederation SAK is still in search of a role for itself in labour market negotiations and the system surrounding it. This bit of internal soul searching has been an important part of the agenda of the 3-day SAK Congress that began on Monday in Tampere. And in fact, this issue came to the fore at the press conference held after the re-election of three leading personalities at SAK. Lauri Lyly, the President of SAK, stated that in the last few years the industry-specific negotiations and agreements have made for decent results but without any bigger achievements. In other words the SAK is not exactly overcome with joy by the whole exercise. The reason for this is simple: "We always strive for qualitative improvements, not only better pay and benefits.
"

Sini Partinen, a 22-year old construction worker, is the youngest delegate

SAK, Tampere (08.06.2011) Sini Partinen, 22, received enthusiastic applause at the SAK Congress as she was presented as the youngest delegate. In her pre-Congress interview in SAK's magazine ‘Palkkatyöläinen’, she gives credit to the Construction Trade Union for its special attention to young people. She explains that many young activists were elected to both the SAK Congress and the unions' own Congress that was held recently. The union has officials who focus on young people by visiting training colleges to activate Finland’s future construction workers.  

Collective bargaining, equality, income poverty, organizing:
SAK looks for fresh approaches to old challenges in today’s changing environment

SAK, Tampere (08.06.2011) SAK's 18th Congress concluded its three-day session on Wednesday afternoon in Tampere. The most important decisions were the approval of the new action program for the next five years and the re-election of the top leadership. As expected, the Congress handled the multitude of documents and issues without any significant disagreements. Although the major issues - collective bargaining, equality, income poverty and organizing - were not new, there is still much work be done to update both political and organizational conclusions, especially in today’s rapidly changing environment. This work will continue after the Congress.