Jarkko Eloranta, the chairperson of the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK), at a news conference in Helsinki on 20 March 2024. Eloranta on Saturday told Helsingin Sanomat that public opinion is not a “primary criterion” as trade unions weigh up whether or not to press on with the political strikes. (Antti Aimo-Koivisto – Lehtikuva)

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PUBLIC SUPPORT for the ongoing political strikes is on the decline, according to a survey conducted for Helsingin Sanomat.

Helsingin Sanomat on Saturday reported that the public is nonetheless fairly widely the labour movement as it continues to demonstrate its disapproval with the labour market reforms and social security cuts outlined by the government of Prime Minister Petteri Orpo (NCP).

Public support did, however, appear to hinge to some degree on how the survey question was phrased.

Almost two-fifths, or 39 per cent, of the survey respondents stated that they support the political strikes in spite of the negative impact on businesses and the day-to-day lives of people, signalling a 10-percentage-point drop from February. Well over four in ten, or 45 per cent, of respondents said they oppose the strikes, while 14 per cent said they have no opinion on the issue.

Another 45 per cent of respondents, meanwhile, declared that they support the labour movement in its effort to protest against the government proposals, representing a seven-point drop from February. Fewer than two-fifths (38%) of respondents said they do not support the protests staged by the labour movement.

The survey found that support for the strikes has tapered off particularly among voters of the Centre, Finns Party and Greens: Support among Finns Party voters has fallen from roughly 30 to 20 per cent since February. Support among Green League voters has fallen from around 75 to little over 50 per cent.

Support has declined even among voters of the Social Democrats, from 83 to 70 per cent since February.

Almost half (49%) of the public, the survey found, do not support the government effort to re-define the rules of working life and reduce unemployment security benefits. Over half (53%) of respondents also stated that they disapprove of the government’s refusal to negotiate with trade unions as long as strikes continue. Fewer than one-third of respondents estimated that the government does not need to negotiate with trade unions about the proposals.

The Finnish government has asked trade unions for input and involved trade union representatives in drafting the proposals, but it has not held genuine negotiations with trade unions because, in its own telling, it won a mandate to carry out the reforms in the parliamentary elections.

Trade unions have organised various protests for months against, for example, the proposals to restrict political strikes and expand the scope of local bargaining. Members of the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK) have been on strike since 11 March, severely disrupting the handling of goods at ports and complicating fuel and other cargo deliveries, as well as the operations of major industrial sites such as pulp and steel mills.

Verian surveyed 1,008 people for Helsingin Sanomat on 22–26 March. The survey thus concluded a day before it was announced that the strikes, which were initially set to last for two weeks until 24 March, would be extended for already the second week, until 7 April.

The survey results have a margin of error of 3.1 points.

SAK on Saturday reported that its survey shows that 56 per cent of wage earners approve of strikes as a means to protest against what the survey question described as negative amendments to working life and social security. The support was high particularly among women, under 30-year-olds and members of SAK and the Finnish Confederation of Professionals (STTK).

Jarkko Eloranta, the chairperson at SAK, viewed in a press release that support for the strikes appears to be high particularly among groups who are most affected by the government proposals, such as women, blue-collar workers, low-income individuals and young people who have recently entered working life.

Conducted by Verian on 21–26 March, the survey drew responses from 1,390 people and has a 2.6-point margin of error.

“The basic message of both surveys is the same,” Eloranta stated to Helsingin Sanomat on Saturday. “The government’s measures don’t have the support of the majority.”

He added that public opinion is not a primary criterion as the central organisation mulls whether or not to press on with the strikes.

“In addition to public opinion, we have to gauge the mood among strikers, which is high. When the majority of wage earners, and especially young women, who’re hit the most by the government’s actions, are on our side, it’s very significant,” said Eloranta.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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