My first visit to Finland was in 1988 and I was the guest of Marja Kantanen and the Finnish industrial mission network. I participated in an international seminar in Holma Kurssikeskus. I remember it for many reasons, not least for the fact that since then I have been continually engaged with Finland and in work with colleagues – long processes of mutual learning! I would like to link this to the request to contribute to the new KDYK and to celebrate the commitment and tenacity of Marja, over the years. Two years after ‘Holma’, in 1990, Marja became my ‘boss’ as a member of the executive of the then ECG network, which connected industrial mission across Europe. I worked for many years as the Programme Secretary of the ECG and Marja was a member of the Executive.
The Challenges to Industrial Mission and Work Life
In our network, around the year 2000, we were very active in supporting many actions with unemployed people and with, for example, women doing industrial work at home. But it was also a time when we were searching for new models of industrial mission work because the old assumptions about working life and workplaces – and the possibilities for the church to engage – were changing.
At this time two developments stick in my mind – first was the German industrial mission (protestant and catholic) organised a research project into the future of industrial mission. They came up with seven models. The research team of two workers over two years produced a report and several brochures. As someone responsible for the network I thought it would be good to share this internationally.
At the same time in the Executive of the ECG we were discussing similar issues and Marja was insisting that we should shift our focus in a positive direction! Of course our critical action with affected people was important but what was the motivation? What are we aiming for? What do we want to propose out of our Christian background in terms of working life? Of course situations are different and the position of trade unions, for example in each country was different, as was the possibility for church action. But this shift of perspective was timely. The Finnish colleagues, led by Marja, through a process of discussion, including with trade unions, produced a kind of declaration of what Good Work might be! Below is the original list and the invitation to join in the discussion and development of the ideas.
Here is a rough English translation of the text:
- Produces goods and services of real value
- Respects the dignity of every human being as the image of God
- Is service to the neighbour
- Is fulfilling and allows the exercise of skills and abilities
- Does not make too many demands on the environment
- Provides adequate income and good working conditions
- Includes the possibility to influence working conditions and the rhythm of work
- Allows adequate time for rest and relaxation
- Affirms every member of the working community or network
- Maintains a balanced relationship between family life and work
The Finnish declaration was produced as a leaflet inviting people to join the discussion and the process was supported with a handbook and other material. The aim was to promote a debate in church and society about the direction work life was taking and to support positive changes.
Good Work as an International Project
To pick up the discussion in the international network, ECG decided to organise a conference for the members and this was held in Driebergen, The Netherlands. The aim was to find new approaches and strategies for industrial mission. The main presentations were from the German research and the Finnish experience with Good Work. In the discussion that followed, in dialogue with other national delegates, it was clear there was much more ‘energy’ and a commitment to attempting to internationalise the Good Work project. The discussion of the well elaborated research project did not lead to any concrete follow up, it seems neither in Germany nor internationally.
There were many follow up actions and innovative ways of implementing this process of discussion, debate and action on ‘Good Work’. I mention just three, as examples. The German colleagues organised different processes of discussion about the 10 theses on various levels. For example, organising actions in market places and town squares with a large ‘floor newspaper’ and inviting people to say what was important to them or how they would add to the content from their concrete experience. It also stimulated discussions with trade unions, especially IGMetal and in educational settings. One result was that the trade unions adopted the slogan Good Work for their campaigns and the influence continues until today. There is a magazine ‘Gute Arbeit’ and the DGB has launched this year a Good Work Index. The roots in industrial mission may be deeply buried now, but at the time the debate was around finding a sharper concept than ‘Decent Work’, which is the slogan of the International Labour Organisation. In terms of research, the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung has a thematic focus on Good Work and Social Progress.
The Czech ECG office had a focus on women and work and they followed this up with a programme ‘Good Work for Women’ which focussed on women and the labour market, especially excluded migrant women and home workers. This process led to a continuing programme of work in this field, with learning programmes for affected women, lobbying and campaigning.
Finally in the context where I am living now, Upper Austria, the industrial mission started a big project on Good Work that involved discussion and action with church, trade union and chamber of labour participation. They said: ‘The Good Work project aims to initiate a social discussion which concerns the working environment with all its connections….by doing this the one-sided fixation on profitability should be questioned and opened to debate…’ The main goal of the project was to ensure that the public recognises the topic of good work! In this way the aim of bringing the industrial mission workers into closer contact with a wider public should also be achieved. The actions were very diverse including:
- Organising an exhibition by an artist about working life
- Organising for children to go to the work with their parent for a day and to give some feedback
- Holding a one-day expert seminar with over 100 participants about the theme with speakers from the trade unions, employers, researchers in sociology and theology and a contribution from the Bishop of Linz, who spoke clearly against deregulation and the casualisation of work
- Making sure that the materials produced for pastoral workers in the parishes always has a reference to working life or a story about work life. Producing many ideas for worship and Bible study
- Having a week of action with the Good Work bus visiting the market places of different towns – or other places where people gather or pass by. The bus is a focal point for discussion – tea, drinks, biscuits and air balloons create a good atmosphere. In the same town there can also be a public meeting or worship on the theme…
- Developing good publicity and PR – leaflets, banners, mugs, balloons, stickers (‘Hier arbeitet ein Mensch’), car window banner stickers etc.
- Producing a worker’s metal lunch box with all the Good Work campaign ‘kit’ in it.
- Organising a Good Work award for workplaces
- Participating in the May Day worker’s march in Linz
The process still continues and there will be a public event in 2016 on ‘Good Work – Good Life’ and the campaign for international issues is running under the slogan ‘Good Work – World Wide’.
From small discussions in the ECG Executive and through the initiative of the Finnish colleagues, many creative actions were developed in different European contexts. This was, for me a very good example of the mutual sharing in a network, being able to develop ideas and support the implementation in very different contexts. But more importantly, in terms of the substance of the issue, the need for reflection and action on ‘Good Work’ is now more urgent. The context has changed, not only because of the impact of the banking crisis but also because of changes in workplaces and in the management of unemployment. It is a contribution of public theology to engage in this debate and to articulate not only pragmatic goals but to link these goals to an organising vision. I recount this episode in the life of Finnish and international church engagement with working life issues to celebrate the contribution Marja Kantanen made in both contexts. It is also an inspiration, that effective work in one’s own context can have much wider implications. However, a network that promotes sharing and mutual learning is a vital tool in this process.
Research Associate, Diak
Klute, J., Schlender, H. & Sinagowitz, S. (eds), 2004, ‘Gute Arbeit/Good Work’ Münster, LIT Verlag