Taina Uusitalo: A life dedicated to working class women

A life dedicated to working class women. Fiina Pietikäinen as a societal actor in 1900-1930. An investigation into gender-related practices in the Labour movement.  446 p. Helsinki 2014

This thesis focuses on gender-related practices in the working class movement in Finland between 1900 and 1930 by focusing on the female labour movement activist Fiina Pietikäinen (1870–1956). The study represents the collective biography tradition; the relationship between the activist Fiina Pietikäinen and the collective working class movement is an essential issue. The Finnish labour movement did not accept individual activity but demanded that members be disciplined and committed to collectively-approved goals. However, the working class movement did provide entirely new opportunities for Finnish working class women and men to influence society. Working class women had the right to participate in both political and labour organisations together with men, although most women chose to participate only in women’s organisations.

The study shows that Fiina Pietikäinen was very practical and that, like most female labour movement activists, she worked to develop the living conditions of working class women and their families. Not even exceptional circumstances such as the general strike in 1905 and the Finnish civil war in 1918 changed the gender-segregated agenda of the Finnish working class movement. The aim of the general strike was to halt the Russification policy in the Grand Duchy of Finland. The social democrats also demanded universal suffrage, in which they succeeded. The Finnish civil war concerned control and leadership of Finland during its transition phase from a Russian Grand Duchy to an independent state. In this war, the forces of the Social Democrats (“Reds”) fought against the forces of the non-socialists (“Whites”), who won the war. The civil war was traumatic and created a division within the Finnish society. Nearly all women who participated in the general strike and the civil war focused voluntarily on issues concerning food supply and family policy, leaving the other societal questions for working class men.

Unlike most female agents in the working class movement, Fiina Pietikäinen was also active in the trade union movement both locally and on the national level, a movement that was dominated by men. Pietikäinen focused especially upon improving the working conditions for sauna and ironing workers, who were all women. As these workers were very poorly organised, Pietikäinen chose to use favourable social conditions to her advantage in order to develop their working conditions. She also relied on the general support of the collective labour movement.

Like most female labour activists, Fiina Pietikäinen supported a gender-segregated organisation both in the political labour movement and the trade union movement. She engaged in the values and the practices of the working class movement, but did not consider the labour movement to be gender-equal as a collective. She believed that the best way for women to improve their situation was to have their own organisations, and before the break-up of the labour movement in the early 1920s, women mainly worked in their own political organisations.

Separate organisations for women were not established in the trade union movement, as male members found that the development of working class women’s societal status did not demand segregation inside the labour movement. Nonetheless, local trade union organisations were generally divided by gender, as gender strongly influenced one’s occupation during the research period.

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