My dissertation, entitled ‘The Finnish Paper Workers’ Union at a crossroads: Labor union representativeness in a changing environment, 1980-2008′ is now online at the Finnish dissertation archive. This is very exciting and also causing butterflies in my stomach, because this is the first time that my work of the last 5 years is so public! I will have one of the best minds in Sociology of Industrial Relations as my opponent, Professor Axel van den Berg of the McGill University in Montreal, Canada.
The structural changes in the Finnish paper industry have also left their mark on the Finnish Paper Workers’ Union
Drs. Paul Jonker-Hoffrén (formerly Jonker) defends his dissertation on September 8, 2012 at the University of Turku in Finland on the topic: ‘The Finnish Paper Workers’ Union at a crossroads: Labor union representativeness in a changing environment, 1980-2008’ The promotion takes place in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the Department of Social Research, Sociology, Lecture hall Pub 3. The opponent is Professor Axel van den Berg of McGill University in Montreal, Canada and the Custos is Professor Hannu Ruonavaara from the University of Turku, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Social Research, Sociology
The thesis shows that through the major structural changes in the Finnish paper industry, the union of this industry has changed as well. This is has mostly happened after 2000, because in the last ten years the changes have accelerated. The main conclusion of the study is that the representativeness of the Finnish Paper Workers’ Union has markedly decreased, but this is mainly due to changes in the global paper industry and its impact on the Finnish paper industry. However, also internal disagreements have weakened the internal democracy of the union. Nevertheless, the paper union is still a very influential union in the Finnish industrial relations.
In the background of the changes in the Paper Workers’ Union are two major structural changes, which are also interrelated. Firstly, the total employment in the Finnish paper industry since 1980 has declined from approximately 45,000 employees to around 18,000 employees in 2008. Although labor productivity has increased dramatically during this period, this has also led to a reduction in employment. Secondly, increasing internationalization of Finnish paper companies and technological developments in the production of paper have influenced the decline in employment. These latter factors have led to increased competitive pressure on Finnish (domestic) paper mills, through which also the attitude towards management techniques such as outsourcing of certain functions (cleaning, security) has changed.
The changes in the industry have put the Paper Workers’ Union in an difficult position. Under great pressure in collective bargaining in 2005 and 2008 major changes were agreed. In 2005 there was a very long labor dispute, where the labor union eventually had to give in to weakening of certain ancient rights and outsourcing was also thanks to this collective agreement no longer completely excluded. In 2008, however, the pressure came mainly from within, because there is considerable disagreement between the Social-Democrat and Left Alliance factions on the correct interpretation of certain clauses of the collective agreement on new investments and their impact on local employment and salaries. These differences of opinion exist both within the main organization and the shop floor and between these levels. It seems that the Social-Democratic faction for the moment has put the Left faction offside by strategic collaboration with employers.
The central theoretical concept in the thesis is ‘representativeness’ – what it is, how it can be measured and what it means in the context of a labor union. There are four dimensions: internal, external, legal and reputational representativeness. This last dimension refers mainly to the effect of strikes and the like. With this theoretical framework it is possible to analyze the position of trade unions (or other actors) and assess internal and external policies in a multifaceted way. For the case of the Finnish Paper Workers’ Union, this means that analysis of e.g. employment, union membership, collective agreements and internal democracy has led to a broad understanding of the representativeness of the union in its changing environment.
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