Why the General Strike?

Finland held a general election in April this year, and following painstaking, and in the Finnish context lengthy, negotiations the most right-wing government that Finland's had since the 1930s was formed. The government is a coalition of four parties, all of which can be described as right-wing: the liberal-conservative National Coalition Party, the far-right Finns party, the conservative Christian Democrats - and the Swedish People's Party of Finland, traditionally the part of the Swedish speaking minority in Finland. Much of the election campaigning revolved around national debt and the need perceived by the right to make cuts, as the previous government had focused on public services slightly more, including various kinds of Covid supports, than the government before that.

Submitted by S2W on October 9, 2023

The leader of the National Coalition, Petteri Orpo, was appointed prime minister and immediately proceeded with introducing a number of austerity measures that will hit those most vulnerable the hardest. Students are among those suffering from the austerity measures, and also among the first ones to protest the austerity policies. The University of Helsinki was occupied by a number of students on September 19th to demand improvements on student benefit, no tuition fees for any student and guaranteed mental health services. A wave of university and secondary school occupations never seen before Finland took over the country; around 50 schools and universities were taken over by students.

The occupation in the University of Helsinki came under an eviction threat due to an event to be held there - that turned out to be organised by the National Defence Course, with guests such as Sweden's former Minister of Defence. The opening speech was to be given by the Finnish President Sauli Niinistö. The students were determined not to leave the occupation and rallied a big crowd of people to support the occupation on the day they'd been told to leave and make room for the event.

When Sauli Niinnistö arrived at Helsinki University on Thursday, students chanted: "General strike, now!" The occupation also had a general strike banner, which has been visible at many protests over the years. This time, the banner was brought by students of Kallio Upper Secondary School, who asked to borrow banners for their own occupation at the beginning of the week.

The demand for a general strike has also been criticized as not belonging to the occupation's original demands, with their focus on student interests. However, the government has started fighting on a broad front, not only against students, but also against the environment, the poor, the workers' movement, and immigrants. None of these groups can win this fight alone. The expansion of demands is not only a natural part of a movement's evolution; it is also often necessary in order to win.

The general strike has been a tool of anarchist revolution since the early 20th century, when anarchists adopted it from revolutionary syndicalists. Like all anarchist tools, the general strike was born in practical struggle, not in the armchairs of intellectuals. Recently, students at many levels of education have spontaneously begun demanding a general strike, regardless of the anarchists, because there is no other choice left. It is hard to imagine the government backing down on its program anymore, unless faced with the threat of a general strike.

The worker's movement is not in conflict with democracy. It is a necessary defense mechanism for democracy, when those in power have gained their place by lying outrageously before elections. There have been four general strikes in Finnish history, if you count the brief strike of the 1980s. The first two are to thank for universal and equal suffrage, and a fifth one may be necessary if we want there to still be a workers' movement in the future.