When employees go on strike – what’s the deal?

Cover Story, Editorial, Features

Vol. 25, Issue 20, 24 March 2023

As we all know, VR (Finish Railways) workers went on strike this week forcing the company to cancel train services all over the country from Monday to Thursday. The strike was about various issues and conditions of employment, and now a deal has finally been reached seeing trains mainly returning to normal before the weekend.

Helsinki railways station has been a bit quieter than normal this week.

We do not see strikes so often in Finland, and when there is one it does not usually last very long or become too problematic. So, what are strikes all about? Who do they affect and how can they be overcome? A strike can have both advantages and disadvantages depending on the context and the goals of those declaring a strike.

One of the main benefits of a strike is that it can be an effective way for workers or unions to demand better working conditions, wages, and benefits from employers or the government. By refusing to work, employees on strike can create economic pressure that forces employers to start negotiations and sometimes they will need to make concessions to meet the demands of the employees or unions.

Similar to strikes, are protests, which can also be seen as a way for various groups to raise awareness regarding important social or political issues and bring attention to their cause. For example, protests and strikes by climate activists or people demanding action on equality can help draw media attention and create momentum for their causes.

However, strikes can also have negative consequences, such as lost wages for the striking workers, disruption to the economy, and potential conflict with security forces. Additionally, some employers may respond to strikes simply by hiring temporary labour or outsourcing jobs, which can weaken the bargaining power of the striking group in the long term.

Sometimes rail disruptions can go on longer than expected…

In the UK during from March 1984 to March 1985, the National Union of Mineworkers went on strike to stop the government (led by the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher), from closing down the coal-mining industry. The union believed they were in such a strong position as the country relied heavily on coal, that the government would give in to demands fairly quickly. However, after a year of striking the union gave in, and the mines closed anyway. During that time, the whole country was in turmoil, with disruptions, riots, social unrest, and many businesses depending on the coal industry, closing their doors. Families went without money, which lead to going without food, and – unable to pay rents or mortgages – losing their homes.

In this way, those on strike can sometimes create more harm than good for themselves and others. Unions and employees need to be certain of their position and make demands that could eventually be negotiated and met. But both parties will eventually have to come to an understanding and make concessions to end the strike. The main idea of strikes is to make it clear that unless employers are willing to have talks and negotiate deals, labour will be withdrawn. Overall, whether a strike is beneficial or not depends on the specific circumstances and goals of those that declare the strike.

It seems these days that strikes and protests are gaining more momentum. In the UK there has also been recent strikes, with rail workers, teachers, and nurses. Another strike here in Finland is planned for cleaning and facility workers, while in France heavy protests are continuing with the planned rise of retirement age from the current age of 62 to the new 64.

Will we ever get to a state of no strikes or protests whatsoever? That is unlikely, if it does happen, then it either means everyone is extremely satisfied with everything they have and how the world is and nothing needs to change, or then we have been stupefied into accepting that we do not have the ability (or will) to change anything.

Be like Paddington Bear, take it easy and always have a marmalade sandwich ready for emergencies!

If you care about your present and your future, remember that you have the chance now to affect both, as the parliamentary elections are now running, so get your vote in and have your say.