Winter War and obligatory work

In October 1939, when the atmosphere was getting very insecure, Finland decided to start a full-scale mobilization of the field army. At the same time, the Government of Finland gave a decree on obligatory work that would be put into practice. According to the law on obligatory work, every Finn, aged from 18 to 59 was obliged to take part in work for the good of national defence. Obviously there were certain exclusions (for example, if one was soldiers…).

The obligatory work was used to get labour in fortification works led by the Engineer commander-in-chief General Major Unio Sarlin. This was a whole new endeavor. The strength of these working formations varied up to 2000 men and were led by civilian (construcion-) engineers. The workers were those obliged to work. They were drafted by local boards of labour and sent to there where needed. (There was friction in this organization, but that’s worth another post…)

Linnoittajain sepät työssä.

Fortification works blacksmiths. SA-kuva.

It is widely argued that the labour in these formations was all about older men. Those fit to service and aged from 20 to 40 were called to arms. So it was the rest, then? I’ve got this kind of feeling from many contemporary sources. Then I collided into very interesting folder in the Finnish National Archives. It contained two stacks of “workbooks” from the the fortification workgroups led by engineers Janhunen and Suomela. The number was 260; only, if there was two workgroups aproximately 750 men per group, or surprisingly many, because these workbooks were ordered to be handed to the worker when moved to another unit.

But I worked with the data I had, knowing that I need more to make serious conclusions. It turned out quite interesting! (For me, at least…)


Obligatory workers in the workbooks of Workgroups Janhunen & Suomela 1939-1940 (n=260)

under 20 20-29 30-39 40-49 50-59
24,61 % 18,85 % 13,85 % 25,00 % 17,69 %

In this example, the majority of them were not so old after all.

ELHN and Military Labour

I attended the 1st Conference of European Labour History Network (ELHN) this week in Turin, Italy. It was the very first time for me to present a paper in international conference! My paper was part of working group Military Labour between XV and XX Century among eight others. Discussions were stimulating! Thanks to Giulio Ongaro for being the chairperson.

Perhaps one of the main themes was the question of categorizing military labour itself. What should (or could) be included and what might be excluded? And should we in some cases talk about militarized labour instead of military labour, and if, what should make the differences? Fortunately enough, there are no simple answers – researcher has to make one’s own categorizations.

The timeline of papers was, as mentioned in the groups title, very broad. That also suggests, that the various questions of military labour are part of longue duree of warfare itself. I think that this includes both soldiers – not only soldiers sides of military labour.

At military labour sessions we heard about the war production of Florence in time of Renaissance (Fabrizio Ansani), manufacturing armours and arms in 15th-16th century Portugal (Inês Meira Araújo). Gender divisions in Swedish military labour 1800-2000 (Fia Sundevall).

Italian wars were discussed by different aspects of military labour. Military professionalism in the second phase of Italian wars (Michele Maria Rabà), draftees and substitutes in Italian army 1861-1914 (Marco Rovinello) and professionalism in Italian military elite from the Risorgimento to the Great War (Jacopo Lorenzini).

We also heard about the Ottoman empire and Devshirmes as unfree labourers during the 16th and 17th centruries (Gulay Yilmaz) and about French Canadian Corvees as labourers in Lieutenant General John Burgoyne’s Army 1774-1778 (Richard H. Tomczak).

And my paper was about preparations and practices of Finnish case of military labour 1920-1944. So, spectrum was very wide. And for me, that was one of the main components of great discussions and exchange of ideas.

Interesting! CFP: Nordic Social- and Labour History Conference

I just found out interesting CFP –

The XIV Nordic Social- and Labour History Conference is scheduled to be held 28.-30.11.2016 in University of Iceland, Reykjavik.

If there would be someone interested in proposing a panel on the theme of “Free and unfree labour such as the military, sex workers, domestic workers, flexibility, precarious employment”, I’m in!

In the CFP it says:
“Proposals for sessions should include presentations on the history of at least three Nordic countries and should consist of 3-4 presentations and one comment.”

I would like to present something about unfree labour in Finland during WWII…

About inter-war planning 1/x

This is very interesting topic (suprisingly?). When thinking of military use of labour during war, I wondered if there were any earlier plans. The law on compulsory labour service (or obligatory work, still not sure about the translation: laki yleisestä työvelvollisuudesta sodan aikana/Lag om allmän arbetsplikt under krigstid) was approved in June 1939. Legislature-process started officially in October 1938, but there obviously were some previous planning done.

This was the first problem I started to tackle. Starting from the clear point of legislature I began looking for clues on earlier planning. Ministry of Defence was my fist pick, but found nothing exact. Only one earlier draft on the law, with out a date.

Things started to make sense after figuring out that there were Economic Defence Council (Taloudellinen puolustusneuvosto/Ekonomisk försvarsrådet), founded 1929. Its task was to make plans for economic and industrial war-preparedness (later defence-preparedness). There were also two different Committees that were assigned to tackle the question: how to organize economics in case of war?

The first was established in 1924 and was led by Kaarlo Castrén (resigned in 1925). The second was set to work in 1926. These both argued towards a specific war economic council. This happened finally in 1929, when the above-mentioned Economic Defence Council started its work and was active between 1929-35.

Military use of labour, why?

The reason for my interest of this topic is a personal one. My grandfather Veikko Mäkinen (1914-1993) worked as a master builder in the Fortification Construction Corps during the Finnish Continuation War. He wrote his memoirs after retirement in the mid-1980s. Reading his “book” was of course interesting!

After figuring out that he was a paid employee, I have been curious about the concept of labour in war. It struck me; there were other occupational groups in the army than soldiers, priests and medical personnel. Master builders and engineers were in command of building fortifications, roads and airfields, etc. – but they must had have men under their command. For example, those working under the law on obligatory work (arbetsplikt, työvelvollisuus).

The number of these men grew perhaps over 100.000 during 1939-1944. (So far, I haven’t seen a study suggesting the total number clearly.) They were mainly deployed in fortification constructions, road works and so on. It was physical work. These men were those not approved in military service, too young, too old – not fit enough. They were civilians, working in a military organization at the war-zone. A blind spot of 100.000 men, and yet unknown number of others, not researched by any branch of history.

Engineers and obligatory workers, 1941. SA-Kuva.

What was the labour used for these military purposes? How was labour used in Finland for military purposes during World War II? Answering these questions is what motivates me.

I have also studying the phenomenon abroad. It seems to me, that this topic is not very widely researched. How was labour used for military purposes in any other country during the WWII? What about WWI? Or planning for these things during the inter-war period?

Do You know? Please, feel free to comment and recommend reading. 🙂