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Swedish Metall on trusting the adversary
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Swedish Metall on trusting the adversary

| Text: Björn Lindahl, Foto Scanpix/Markus Dahlberg

"What you absolutely must not do during wage negotiations is to lie. You don't have to put all your cards on the table, but if you lie you loose all trust."

So says Veli-Pekka Säikkälä, collective bargaining chief at Swedish trade union IF Metall. He has been bargaining chief for 225 000 metalworkers during several wage negotiations and has experienced up close the dilemmas faced by the parties to the labour market. They are adversaries yet must have trust in each other. 

"In the European Metalworkers' Federation (EMF) we discuss a deeper co-operation between trade unions in Europe. We should for instance consolidate negotiating rules throughout Europe," says Veli-Pekka Säikkälä, who recently experienced that this is not as easy as it sounds. 

"I was asked by a South European trade union representative what we do when a negotiation has been concluded. I answered that when a deal is signed, we have a peace agreement. 

'But what do you do if you're not happy with the deal?' he asked.

"Then we can go to the Labour Court.

'And if you loose there too?'

"Then we accept that, I answered. That was something the South European did not understand. 

'We would have continued the conflict,' he said."

Veli-Pekka Säikkälä arrived in Sweden from Finland at the age of two. His father got a job at Saab in Trollhättan and his son followed in his footsteps. During the crisis in the 90s Saab reduced the number of workers from 12,000 to 5,000, and Veli-Pekka Säikkälä was deputy leader for a group within the factory. He was repeatedly pulled into negotiations over cuts. When the crisis eased he stayed with the trade union and later got a job at IF Metall's union office. 

The low trust within the union - there are 21 percent more who say their trust is low than those who express a high level of trust - is probably due to the general  reduction of authority levels, he says.

"There was a time when nobody questioned what the doctor said, and when the ombudsman came to Saab it was as if God himself climbed out of heaven. Now we question everything.

"But IF Metall aren't loosing representation. We have fewer members, but only because the industry employs 60,000 fewer people than before."

He considers new social media like twitter and facebook both a threat and an opportunity.

"We're walking a tightrope during negotiations when we need to inform our members and the public while at the same time respecting the rule of not giving anything away for as long as negotiations are active. It could be disruptive to talk too much. 

"I believe that risk has increased with the new social media. Yet there are two sides to every coin - new media also makes it easier to reach members directly.

"The real threat to the Swedish and Nordic model of negotiated agreements comes from our government and the EU.

"In reality neither we nor the employers want to abandon the negotiation model. It makes it possible to reach agreements which are beneficial to the entire industry. If the government gets to decide we'll end up with less flexible solutions.

"But at the same time it is tempting for both employers and the unions to try to reach their goals through political means. We need discipline in order to tell politicians no. But in cases where the parties cannot reach a solution the politicians will intervene. The question of gender equality is one such case," says Veli-Pekka Säikkälä.

Even though tricking the adversary is considered a deadly sin, he would never dream of telling him or her that a certain negotiator was not desired as an opponent.

"Demanding such things only leaves you open to having to accept a similar demand from your opponent later. But if there is no trust both sides will notice. The solution is usually that a person who has no trust leaves." 

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