AT THE SITES, IN THE CABINETS, IN THE STREETS

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1 Summary AT THE SITES, IN THE CABINETS, IN THE STREETS Power and Unemployment Policy in Tampere in The depression of the 1930s in an industrial city III The research setup The concepts the depression of the 1930s and politics co-occur rather seldom in Finnish study of history. This is mainly due to the fact that the depression of the 1930 has been understood mainly as an economic and only secondarily as a social phenomenon. Regarding the study of economic development, the top level economic policy relating to the depression of the 1930s has been touched upon previously. On the other hand, the direct use of power and the depression of the 1930s have not really been investigated into in Finland. In the case of Tampere, the motivation for a study of the depression and the politics is provided by the proximity in time of the civil war in 1918, and the ensuing left-wing majority in the city council. In this study we focus on the politics at the local level during the Depression. The scenes of the politics were places of work, the municipal politics, and the popular action in the street. The actors were the Conservatives, the Social Democrats, and the Communists. The political actions in the places of work have been understood to consist of pay negotiations, one-sided pay cuts and rendering workers redundant. The profits generated to the owners by the factories in a time of economic depression are contrasted against the pay cuts and redundancies faced by the workers. In the preceding studies the fact that the identification of the suspected Communists within the workforce was a cooperation of the employers, their umbrella organization STK (the black lists ), and the State Secret Police (EK-Valpo) has not been highlighted well enough. The politics has also been understood to consist of the decision-making on the unemployment benefits and the relief work sites by the City Council. The Left and the Right fractions were in a yearly struggle concerning the financial measures, the wages paid at the relief work camps, and the continuation of the municipal relief workshop, and food aid. A forceful prevention of a 1st of May parade or a workers meeting has also been seen as an act of politics. The encounter of the unemployed (the left-wingers) and the police is compared to other countries. It is astonishing that those measures that affected the workers were at their peak just when the workers had their 398

2 most vulnerable moment and were in the need of the most assistance from society. For the study the papers of the employers and the trade unions have been unearthed. The municipal decision-making has been reliably recorded in the City archives. Unofficial material has been collected from various sources. The contemporary recollections have been an important part. An essential part of the study has been the understanding of the important role of economy as a guiding factor and the context for moral choices. Economy in itself will not explain everything, but it seems to have had a prominent role in explaining the actions and choices made by the social classes and groups. Thinking in Braudellian terms, the politics is the visible foam on the more enduring economic, social and cultural structures of society. The politics at the local level is easily overshadowed by the more important worldwide and national level events. The most of the politics during the depression was enforced on the local level and should not be undervalued. We hope this study will for its part further interest in the role of the local level within the national process. The field of the employers work market The situation of the industrial workers The situation of the 1920s and the power of the trade union movement have been exaggerated in previous studies, and the picture is based on some major industrial actions in the 1920s. Making the strikes prominent has been an effort to convey the dangers of communism. At the same time there has been a tendency to portray the actions taken on the Communists and the trade unions as understandable ones. The actual situation within the industrial circles has received little attention. The trade unions in the main were applying for changes at the local level, and did not make any demands. The disputes over pay were a question over social hegemony, not over whether the employers were able to meet up with the pay rises suggested by the trade unions. The level of wages was only meeting the level of the year 1913 in the late1920s. The depression of the 1930s provided the employers with a total freedom in the working places. During the recession the interests of the major Finnish industries were not under a threat despite a banking crisis and some bankrupts of small companies. The communist-lead trade union that had partly painted itself in the corner was dissolved. A Social Democrat-lead trade union movement took its time to get started. The employers did not have to fear for any adverse actions or meetings during the recession. Most employers took an advantage of the situation and sacked unskilled labour that they had no use for as well as those that were politically undesirable: those who were known Communists and trade union activists. To control the situation, the employers made the existing record keeping of their workforce more efficient by establishing a central office of their own. Not all employers 399

3 joined these efforts. Where there was no resistance, the employers lowered the wages of their workers uncontested. When the economic tables turned, the stance of the employers on the workforce showed signs of disintegration, because production required professional workforce that was beginning to become hard to come by. After the late 1930s especially some smaller metal work companies began to hire workers with a left-wing background. The big companies were not readily hiring people with known Communist sympathies even under the relaxed economic conditions. Simultaneously, the workers were beginning to show the courage to become involved in strikes, and the new labour unions lead by the Social Democrats were gathering fresh membership. With the economic upturn the pay questions turned up, and in order to maintain peaceful relations the employers were forced to become receptive to the requirements of the workers at around1936, and to ponder the question of whether to comply with them. A double trap being a Communist and a construction worker The building sector differed in many respects from the industrial sector. A bricklayer, carpenter and unskilled labourer usually had to sell his or her work several times over one year. The employers were hiring contracted gangs for their sites. These were lead by foremen. That was a network of people that required an approval of the rest of the group. During the economic boom Tampere construction workers were unionized to a degree of 80 %. Not all construction workers were Communists, although they might have been members in a Communist-lead union branch. Therefore at least for some of the workers, being a member of a trade union was a strategy that helped them in becoming employed. Where the employers had the upper hand, the percentage of unionized workers began to fall. When construction activities came to a halt in the late 1930s, it meant an almost complete joblessness within those workers that had previously been employed in private construction projects. One body of workers and one school of political thought lost its job and position, and when their unions had been dissolved as well, there would be no shelter for them. These construction workers would form the core of the officially unemployed. Their political orientation would not directly take away their jobs, but an awareness in the minds of the rulers of what they might be entertaining in their minds could have had its effect on the politics and the social policy observed. Are we assisting the Communists if we assist those people? The economic upturn in the 1930s also meant a reorganization of the old work gangs, and a forming of new ones. Being a member of such a group was a practical requirement for becoming employed. For the less productive workers and those who had lost the control over their lives due to for instance alcoholism during the depression, the mutual solidarity of the gang was being tested. On the other hand the sole requirement for being a 400

4 member was not the professional skill shown, surely in Tampere as well. The question of the left-wingers to become reemployed after the recession was not necessarily that of the struggle between the employers and the employed, but also of the dispute among the left-wingers themselves, the Communists, the Social Democrats, and the unorganized. The construction workers had a pivotal role in determining the political guidelines, the wages and other conditions. Being a member of a work gang provided a construction worker with a range of forms of security. It not only provided a workplace in good times, it also provided an individual with some security during the worse economic cycles. If a worker belonged to a professional group that had a seasoned foreman, he could pay back his debt by becoming committed to the targets of the group. If being a member involved being unionized or taking part in an industrial action or the like, a group that had a good reputation could operate freely without fearing too much for the consequences. In this fashion professionalism bought you some ideological space as well. The municipal field of politics dominated by the Social Democrats The depression in society and the simultaneous sorry state of the trade unions brought about a situation in society where the working class was totally dominated by the upper class in the working places and in society in general. The municipal democracy was the only field where the workers were able to resist this. Where as the employers dominated the working sites during the depression, the municipal cabinets were dominated by the Social Democrats in Tampere. When the depression progressed, their policies were becoming more determined. Their political opponents held that the Social Democrats were extorting funds away from the Conservative pockets to those in need in Tampere. The Social Democrats and the Communists held that the depression was due to the Capitalist system whereas according to the Conservative thought the economic cycles merely came and went. The question of poverty was connected with that of responsibility. According to the far right, poverty and unemployment were the fault of the individual. A somewhat more moderate line of thought was that poverty and unemployment were due to seasonal and economic cycles. Because the workforce would be needed after the depression as well, the unemployed should be assisted by the municipality and by the state. There should be no gratuitous help. The main school of Social Democrats held that the responsibility of an economic depression lies within the capitalist society, and the municipality and the state should therefore assist those in need. The Social Democrats were bound by the legal aspects of Finnish society, unlike the Communists that had no formal power nor position. The latter were free to present that poverty and unemployment would subside only when the present economic system will be overturned. Prior to that, people should be assisted. 401

5 The increased funding in Tampere was taken care of by increasing the taxes and taking loans. In the following figure we present the various opinions on the directions of the unemployment and social policies. We are calling them the Liberalist, the Conservative, the Social Democrat, and the Communist directions. According to the Liberalist school, poverty and unemployment were the fault of the individual. In the Conservative discourse they were a part of the natural function of a society. The unfortunate should be helped, but there should be no irresponsible increase in the role of the public sector. Therefore the unemployed and the poor should be assisted by sundry collections and donations rather than by any city-funded unemployment boards The municipal policy statements by various classes and interest groups must be seen through their social rank. Members of the upper classes were either unaware of the poor living conditions of the working class or they were plainly uninterested in the matter. From their point of view concentrating on cost cutting was understandable. For the Social Democrats it was important to maintain the stability of municipal budgets, especially in the early stages of the depression. When the depression was loosening its grip the party strengthened its efforts to better respond to the working class needs. The general aspects of the Communist policy, such as their intolerant stance towards the Social Democrats, were at first initiated by Moscow, although the local municipal policy must have been directed in Tampere. In the early 1930s the left-wing policy was conducted underground, and lacked any greater society-wide significance. As the depression lost its grip and the power of the trade unions re-established itself the working people had more chances of a successful resistance. Partly this was reinforced by a tactical shift within the Communist movement according to which the slinging mud on the Social Democrats would be replaced by cooperating with them. As the local Conservatives became more moderate, the Finnish Communist Party(SKP) would be paralyzed in the Soviet Union under Stalin, and in Tampere as well. The Left now had to rely on its own resources when fighting for democracy and the popular front. In the late 1930s there was for a while a single workers party and an almost unified trade union movement. When the Communists merged with the Social Democrats their joint class position was elevated and made the Social Democrats bigger and bolder in Tampere. The integration of the Left took place under the banner of the Social Democrats in Tampere, and its ideological core consisted of defending democracy and resisting international fascism. When the workers in Tampere were mobilized for the war in 1939 they were primarily fighting for a red and democratic Tampere, not for the White Finland of the victors of the year When we conceptualize the reactions and speeches we might reach a conclusion where the Conservatives said this, Social Democrats that, and the far Left something else. In the real life the opinions and political were intertwined 402

6 in such a way that finding any pure discourses in the output of a single person will not be doing justice to the historical situation. Within a single text, speech or literary work we might find elements that are both Conservative and in accordance with the Class Struggle. Especially the Liberal and the Conservative ways of presentation are intertwined in such a way that they may become indistinguishable. As far as the economy went the Conservatives had been Liberalists: no new taxes, nor municipal spending. In the Social Democrat main vein of thought there were, at least in Tampere, elements, which might have originated from the bearing of financial burden that were clearly Conservative. Basically, the texts give indications of their writers relationship with work and capital. The municipal economy was the main tool in which the working class and the workers movement saw their chances of equalizing the situation, whereas the Right saw the municipal chest as an bottomless pit that was undertaking politically motivated forced withdrawals. A Street blocked for the Communists The police are chasing a young man who has attached fliers onto fences and lampposts that demand work and bread in the streets at night. Was a junior Communist such a danger that his propaganda work had to be prevented? In our opinion the depression and the paralyzing of the trade union movement alone would have been sufficient to have prevented any Communist activities and no special police intervention would have been needed. The only channel for political action was the secret underground one late in the year1930. The operations consisted more or less of private discussion, preparing and disseminating flyers and underground papers that discussed current events, several of which were being circulated in Tampere. The action in the streets was nominal and had little or no influence on the daily matters. What makes the matter interesting is the action of the police, who allocated a lot of time and resources in order to remain up to date on the current plans of the Communists. At the same time they were preventing the protests of the unemployed against their plight and poverty. There were no hunger marches or similar actions comparable to Western democracies. In addition to the mental depression the resources of the Communists in a small city were rather limited. According to the official reports sent to Moscow their membership count was between 20 and 30. The number of votes cast for the Communist cover organizations in Tampere was under 3,000. In the trade unions there were a few thousand local members. The police baton did not attract a lot of protesters on the streets, and the message of the united front and later the popular front with the Social Democrats must have been a relief. The Communists were allowed to rejoin the trade unions in in addition to being allowed to vote for the Social Democrats, although some had rejoined earlier. In this respect the everyday worries of breadwinning motivated the Left more than did any theoretically orthodox solutions. 403

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