Transnational Union Organizing in a Regional Labour Market: The Baltic Organising Academy and Finnish-Estonian Union Cooperation

Thursday, 2 July 2015: 2:15 PM-3:45 PM
OLD.2.22 (Old Building)
Kairit Kall, Tallinn University, Tallinn, Estonia; University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Finland
Laura Mankki, University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Finland
Markku Sippola, University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Finland
Nathan Lillie, University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Finland; University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Finland
European integration has resulted in the growing interdependence of European labour markets.  Migration flows, particularly East-West ones, have increased, and where geography permits there are increasing numbers of temporal workers and cross border commuters.  Finland and Estonia represent one example of a regional transnationally linked labour market, where there is almost union-free zone just south of Finland. This paper will concentrate on the joint effort of Finnish and Estonian unions to organize Estonian workplaces through the establishment of Baltic Organising Academy (BOA) to train and support “organizing model” union campaigns in Estonian and Finnish workplaces. This substantial transnational union cooperation is motivated by the fact that labour market developments in one country have an immediate, substantial and visible impact in the other, and by the failure of past social-partnership oriented strategies in Estonia. We find that the Estonian unions have been implementing strategies inspired by successful campaigns from elsewhere in Europe. In contrast to comparable efforts in the past elsewhere in Europe (for example, the Germany based European Migrant Workers Union, see Greer et al. 2013), the BOA appears to have elements favourable to long-term success; the approach is now also being tried on a small scale in Finland to organize unorganized workplaces. Our main findings about the model are (1) the project has gained widespread political and financial support from trade union actors in both countries; (2) there are high number of actors involved and resources come from several places, it is a rather decentralised establishment; (3) although the Finnish  unions are providing substantial resources, Estonian unions are implementing the organizing, and enjoy a high level of autonomy; (4) it is based on organizing model that seems to be well suited for union-hostile environments like Baltics; and (5) there are concrete organizing successes, and participating unions are committed to invest part of the campaign-generated membership fees into continued organizing work.

The analysis is based on interviews with Finnish and Estonian trade union officials and activists and documentary research.