Peoples Dispatch in conversation with JP Väisänen, chairman of the Communist Party of Finland (SKP), regarding the party’s initiatives and campaigns in Finland and its take on the policies of the incumbent government.
Peoples Dispatch(PD): What has been the impact of COVID-19 in Finland, particularly on the working class? How efficient has been the government response to tackle the health and social crisis and start the COVID-19 vaccinations in the country?
JP Väisänen (JP): We, in Finland, Europe, and in most of the capitalist world, live in a 24/7 crisis. Class struggle means a continuous fight against the neoliberal cuts on basic services and workers’ rights. COVID-19 is one more crisis to fight against. The bourgeois, big monopoly capitalist machine is well prepared to act against people’s needs for the profits of big capital.
COVID-19 has especially hit hard the precarious workers. Also, unemployed people with a long-term unemployment history are suffering enormously. Current neoliberal work policies function with the idea to oppress people with precarious jobs and forced entrepreneurship.
The incumbent government led by Sanna Marin has made it possible for those self-employed to get social assistance and an extra 2,000 euros in business grants. At the same time, dirty games are being played in the form of the government’s support to big business. For example, Business Finland (a public organization for innovation funding and trade, travel and investment promotion in Finland, directed by the Finnish Ministry of Employment and the Economy) has distributed financial support of 179 million to big businesses. Centers for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment have granted subsidies to big businesses to the tune of approximately 30 million euros, even to companies that have not complied with the terms of the Finnish Limited Liability Companies Act, such as the obligation to submit financial statements to the Trade Register.
Due to the coronavirus epidemic, the government has supported big companies that do not appear to have had any actual business in recent years. Moreover, the long-standing financial difficulties have not prevented the distribution of tax euros, but public aid has effectively revived companies that are bankrupt. In 2018, nearly 2,000 companies supported by Business Finland paid no corporate tax because the companies made losses or were able to take advantage of their old losses. But if you were poor or unemployed, you received no special treatment due to the COVID-19.
The Communist Party of Finland demanded during the early stages of the pandemic that the government start to pay 1,200 euros as basic security to everybody who cannot afford basic security with their own work.
The Sanna Marin government’s response to tackle the health and social crisis has been first aid to keep big business rolling. The government has taken loans to finance business subsidies and only some basic funding has gone into municipalities’ basic services.
According to public opinion, the government has not taken necessary measures for COVID-19 special treatment. The Finnish Union of Practical Nurses (SuPer) is criticizing local authorities for lack of personnel and inadequate protective equipment.
Regarding the latest updates on the COVID-19 vaccinations, according to the ministry of health, the entire population (5 million) will be protected. The vaccine is voluntary and is offered free of charge to anyone who wants it. However, according to National News (YLE), in the early stages, Finland has been one of the slowest among the EU countries in vaccinating against COVID-19.
PD: Finland’s coalition government led by social democrat Sanna Marin has been hailed across the world as an example of women’s empowerment and progressive politics. In your opinion, how progressive is the government, especially with respect to its policies towards women, the working class, youth, and social justice?
JP: The Sanna Marin-led government surely is different from the openly austerity-driven government led by the center party millionaire, Juha Sipilä (2015-2019). Sanna Marin’s government gives hope to its many voters. I totally agree that it is important to hear and see young women in high political places. But, in the end, her government has not made any radical change to policies in place for several decades in Finland.
All the parties in the current coalition government accept the logic of the neoliberal market economy and capitalism. The parliamentary left in Finland, the social democratic party and Left alliance, both consider socialism as an interesting philosophical issue but do not aim at constructing socialism in practice. Imperialism is not in the vocabulary of the Finnish parliamentary left which does not want to fight imperialism.
PD: What do you mean by ‘KIKY’ hours and what implications do they have for the working class in Finland? What is the latest update on SKP’s campaign for reduction in total working hours in a day?
JP: ‘KIKY’ hours is a brilliant neoliberal showcase from Finland. It refers to the hours workers have to work for free for the sake of competitiveness. Until some point, even the Finnish trade unions went along with this madness, demanding the workers work for longer hours in the name of competitiveness. Thanks to the recent negotiations for employment contracts and the parliamentary elections results, free hours for competitiveness have been eliminated.
PD: Why is there an urge for increased military spending in Finland that too by a ‘progressive’ government. What is the public opinion on this issue?
JP: The current political situation challenges us to strengthen peace work. The parliament has just given the Sanna Marin government the power to purchase new HX fighters to replace old air fighters. In the budget, ordering authorization of EUR 9.4 billion was approved on 17 December 2020. This can still be exceeded on the basis of changes in cost levels and due to other contracts such as the purchase of arms and spare parts. Estimates of the lifecycle costs of the fighter jet project ranged from EUR 20 to EUR 30 billion.
Buying new air fighters brings Finland closer to NATO and creates an economic crisis. We should fly 20 more years with the same fighters and replace air fighters with updated technology.
In Finland, we do not need a defense alliance with any foreign power. The current military agreements, such as the host country agreement, the JEFF Agreement (England), the Intervention Agreement (France), NATO friendship and partnership projects, and the European Defense Fund, must be withdrawn in the name of peace-building and an independent credible defense policy should be adopted.
I would argue that Finland’s political elite will soon wake up to the cash crisis caused by the HX fighters deal unless the project is cancelled. All the parties in the parliament had agreed years ago on an agreement on purchasing new air fighters. The Finnish peace movement is against new arms deals and the air fighter deal. The Communist Party of Finland is the only party supporting the peace movement’s demand.
Finland needs to break away from NATO agitation and NATO options. We need to develop an independent credible defense and security policy based on peace-building and keep our neighbors as neighbors, not intentionally create new enemies.
PD: What is your take on Finland’s membership in the European Union and increased cooperation with NATO?
JP: The Communist Party of Finland aims to exit the EU and its capitalist structures. We also struggle against all racist, fascist and nationalist initiatives for a more closed Finland. It is clear to us that we do not see a more closed, nationalistic, and capitalist Finland as an alternative to the EU. That is why we see cooperation with the European people and civil societies as an important future-building endeavor. This involves collaboration between the Finnish and European civil societies, as well as between political actors of the communist and workers’ parties and the European Left parties.
Finland’s exit from the EU could begin with exit from the EU’s economic and monetary union. Similarly, we must break away from the EU’s common security and defense policy and the European Defense Fund which makes the EU a military union.