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Fresh Left leader Andersson slams competitiveness pact

In her first policy speech since taking office, Li Andersson predicted that the competitiveness pact – which was finally approved on Friday – will go down in history as weakening the status of workers in Finland.

Li Andersson vasemmiston puoluekokouksessa Oulussa
Andersson was confirmed as party leader on 11 June. Image: Markku Ruottinen / AOP

The Left Alliance's new chair, Li Andersson, has sharply criticised the government-driven competitiveness agreement in her first address as party leader. She spoke to party members at their congress in Oulu on Sunday, a day after being formally confirmed as party chair.

The 29-year-old first-term MP was virtually assured the post in early June when the other candidates dropped out of the race. Born into a Swedish-speaking family in Turku, Andersson holds a bachelor's degree in international justice, and has studied Russian language and culture. She has also led the Left Alliance's youth wing and co-authored a book on right-wing extremism in Finland.

"Historic weakening" of workers' rights

In her first major policy speech, Andersson predicted that the competitiveness pact – which was finally approved by the last key union on Friday – will go down in history as weakening the status of workers in Finland.

Among other provisions, the agreement extends the average worker's annual time at work by 24 hours at no extra pay. Spread out over some 215 working days a year, that works out to roughly six extra minutes a day.

"This is simply a question of the right's long-held goal of more income transfers to employers," Andersson charged.

Andersson says the Left wants Finland to experiment with six-hour work days. She cited such a pilot project in Gothenburg, Sweden, which she noted has received international attention, including a report last month in The New York Times.

"Finland will not rise [out of recession] because each of us hangs on at our workplace for six more minutes or because an overworked practical nurse's holiday pay is cut – while at the same time the government cuts precisely that which we're known for around the world: know-how. I suspect that The New York Times won't be coming to do a story on six-minute-longer working days in Sipilä's Finland."

Inequality has not faded

In Andersson's view, polarisation within the workforce is the biggest future challenge for both Finland's left and its trade union movement. She said she wants to strengthen the party's cooperation with labour unions. The new chair argued that working conditions have been gradually weakened, while undermining the status of small groups.

"Contracts with no minimum number of guaranteed working hours were common for many immigrants in the service sectors before they spread to cover a much larger group, which is still expanding," she noted.

Andersson says her goal is for every worker in Finland to earn a decent living wage.

"Social classes and inequality have not disappeared in Finland. And they won't disappear by the National Coalition Party's [new chair] Petteri Orpo trying to redefine the middle class as hard-working," she asserted.

The Left Alliance, with 12 seats in Parliament, is the sixth-largest of the eight parties in the legislature. It was formed in 1990 by the merger of three leftist parties, including the Communist Party of Finland, which dated back to 1918.

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