Abstract: Enforcing and Re-Enforcing Trust: Employers and Upper White-Collar Employees in Finnish Manufacturing, 1920-1980

Susanna Fellman


This paper analyzes the transformations in employee-employer relations over a long time period, with a focus on upper white-collar employees and skilled professionals within the manufacturing industry in Finland. The empirical analysis covers transformations in employment policies, employment conditions, reward systems and employee-employer relations on the firm level, combined with labor market analysis of these employees' growing interest formulation and the responses of the employers to this development. The main argument of the paper is that, in spite of extensive transformations both on the labor market (negotiation practices, collective action, professional interest formulation, employer strategies) and on the company level (compensation systems, personnel policies, employment conditions), the basic feature in the employee-employer relations with respect to this particular personnel group was an aim on both sides to maintain employee-employer relations based on mutual trust and loyalty, originating in the patriarchal tradition. However, the strategies of both parties changed as a result of transformations on the labor market and on the company level. The employers wanted to avoid conflicts and clashes with this group of "key employees" and had to react to their increasing interest formulation and growing wage earner loyalty. The skilled white-collar employees, on the other hand, aimed to preserve their favorable position as confidants to the owners and employers in order to secure career opportunities and a decent wage level. One important strategy was to demarcate themselves more distinctly from lower white-collar employees. These transformations are dealt with as dynamic processes, consisting of elements of tension and conflict, both within and between the two parties, but also of adaptation and conflict solving. The processes are also set against broader societal changes. This was an era of "modernizing Finland," marked by professionalization, active growth policies and, after World War II, consensus building, where particularly the interest of the export sector was in focus. By building consensus and enforcing trust between employers and employees economic growth was to be promoted.