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Nation of the Free campaign fights for labour rights in Parliamentary elections

Finland will elect a new Parliament on Sunday 14 April. The campaign Nation of the Free is striving to get labour market issues onto the electoral agenda.

The campaign Vapaiden valtakunta (Nation of the Free) was initiated by young trade union activists last autumn. The main idea is to ask all candidates standing for Parliament to what extent they agree with the values of the campaign.

Another important task they have taken upon themselves is to motivate people to vote. The campaign is not providing financial assistance or support to any individual candidate or any single political party.

It is possible to make a pledge to vote and support the campaign. Now just one week before the elections some 20 000 voters have signed the pledge.

Where does the name of the campaign come from? The campaign web page explains: “The Nation of the Free opposes the regime of coercion. We seek a government that does not dictate, extort and enact coercive laws. We think that freedom means an adequate livelihood and the right to speak our mind. Freedom is not the right of the strong to subjugate the weak, but the security and opportunity to plan our future lives.”

Hundreds of events have been held on the streets and in market squares by voluntary campaign activists. The campaign web pages say that this campaign is, above all, about listening to what people think and have to say about these issues.

“We trust in the power of direct human contact, encouraging campaign supporters to engage in tens of thousands of pre-election conversations at workplaces, on the streets, from door to door and by telephone.”

Eight questions to reply to

All parliamentary candidates received eight questions to reply to, all connected with the working life and labour rights. There are questions for example on the right to strike, whether it should be easier to dismiss employees or whether the misuse of zero-hour contracts should be prohibited.

Not surprisingly, the strongest support for employees and workers’ rights comes from the left wing parties. However, some candidates from the populist far right wing Finns Party also ticked support for the campaign goals. Some single candidates from smaller parties may appear on the supporters list, too.

To keep everyone up-to-date about where politicians stand the campaign has drafted a “scorecard”, explaining and detailing how the political parties have been reacting in Parliament to the questions asked.

It comes as no surprise that the three Government parties – the Centre Party of Finland, the National Coalition Party and Blue Reform – are getting the lowest marks. The Government had consistently fought with the trade unions over questions like freedom to make collective agreements, unemployment benefits and dismissal legislation.

Several trade unions have lent their support to the campaign, both financially and in giving help with organising it. All information concerning financial support is published on the campaign web page.

The three biggest unions in the country are the main supporters: the Industrial Union, the Service Union United PAM and JHL, the Trade Union for the Public and Welfare Sectors. Each supported the campaign with 400,000 euro. Among other supporting unions is the Finnish Electrical Workers’ Union, which gave 50,000 euro.

Heikki Jokinen