Although trade unionization had started somewhat later
Finland than it had throughout the rest of the continent,
1980s the country's workers and employers were the most
organized in Western Europe. According to the Ministry of
about 80 percent of the work force belonged to unions,
the rate varied significantly among industries. Employers'
federations also represented most enterprises
(see Interest Groups
, ch. 4).
Conflict between labor and management was fierce during
interwar years because tensions resulting from the civil
soured industrial relations. Labor-management
improved in 1940 when the Central Organization of Finnish
Unions (Suomen Ammattiyhdistysten Keskusliitto--SAK) and
Confederation of Finnish Employers (Suomen Työnantajain
Keskusliitto--STK) recognized each other and agreed to
during the national emergency. Industrial relations
immediately after World War II, however, in part because
government regulations tied wages to the cost-of-living
Despite a general strike in 1956, occasioned by conflicts
interest among farmers, workers, and management, a spirit
compromise gradually developed in the late 1950s and early
Finland's industrial relations took an important turn
better in 1968, when a system of centralized incomes
was instigated by the government, which hoped to curb
and improve competitiveness after a major currency
After that date, regular negotiations, involving the
labor, and employers, led to central agreements on wages,
benefits, work conditions, and social policy. Negotiations
usually started in the fall and ended in March. Senior
servants acted as mediators between labor and management.
government often offered concessions, such as tax
longer vacations, or reduced employer social security
contributions, in exchange for wage restraint or increased
investment. The central agreement among the national
was not binding on individual unions. In practice,
central agreement provided guidelines for contracts made
unions and employers or, if necessary, between workers and
management at individual factories. Contracts affecting
servants and professionals were usually negotiated after
settlements in industry, as were settlements concerning
paid for agricultural commodities and lumber. In this way,
in private enterprises exposed to international
influenced the protected sectors of the economy.
Many observers feared renewed labor conflict during the
as slower growth, stiff foreign competition, and austerity
policies put pressures on the negotiation process. Strikes
occur, mostly during the spring negotiation season. In
example, unions representing salaried employees,
professional personnel accepted the central agreement, but
held out for shortened work hours. When the STK demanded
flexibility in setting work schedules in exchange for the
proposed reduction in work time, SAK responded with the
general strike since 1956. As a result, SAK gained a
increase than the other federations and a provision that
would reduce the work week in industry to 37.5 hours.
number of local unions refused to follow the central
preferring to negotiate on their own.
In 1988 the government was unable to implement a
agreement, largely because of opposition from employers.
and employers reached agreements industry by industry,
following the settlement reached in the paper industry. In
industry, blue-collar workers had achieved wage increases
about 4 percent for the first year of their two-year
while white-collar workers had received higher raises; the
parties had agreed to delay negotiations for the second
Although its proposals had been rejected, the government
intervened in the negotiation process by introducing
on retraining programs, security against dismissal, and
representation on company boards. The fact that important
branches, such as banking, insurance, and trade, had opted
multiyear agreements in which wage increases were to be
negotiated a year at a time, further indicated that the
centralized negotiation process was becoming fragmented.
these apparent setbacks, most Finns supported an incomes
as a way to restrain wages, thereby protecting real
Despite widespread consensus on incomes policy, Finland
continued to experience more strikes and lockouts than
Nordic states. In principle, Finnish legislation blocked
actions during periods governed by incomes agreements.
according to the law regulating strikes, unions were
give two weeks' notice to both employers and the state
initiating a strike, and the government could delay a
could require mediation. Despite these controls, illegal
stoppages occurred regularly, often involving small, but
wellplaced , groups of workers. In 1986, for example, air
controllers shut down the Helsinki airport for two weeks.
number of strikes had declined, however, after 1984, when
central incomes agreement had included a ninefold increase
fines for illegal strikes.
Data as of December 1988