Arbetarbostäder och modernisering

Bostadspolitik i G.A. Serlachius Ab under mellankrigstiden

  • Susanna Fellman


This article deals with the development of workers’ housing in a Finnish pulp and paper company, G.A. Serlachius Ab (GAS) in the early 20th century. Prior to the ‘modern’ welfare state, major firms often provided ample welfare services for their employ­ees and these programs could be both extensive and elaborate. These services were often a necessity; early industrial compa­nies in Finland were commonly established in peripheral regions, operating in remote mill communities where basic services oc­casionally had to be established from scratch. This private wel­fare model also fitted the prevailing paternal ideology, where the goal was to tie loyal workers to the company. After the Finnish Civil War (1918), private welfare policies increasingly became part of containment strategies. Although welfare policies, especially housing projects, were part of paternal employer strategies, these efforts also gradually became an expression of modernization of management. Healthy, skilled and well-fed workers were more effective. Welfare strategies would therefore improve producti-vity. Company welfare services were also often used for marketing purposes, as evidence of a modern and progressive manager.

The harsh Finnish climate made poor housing conditions for the growing working class a particular problem during the early 20th century. The low housing standard was debated among so­cial reformers and awareness of its effects on the mental and physical health of occupants was growing. Moreover, there was fear that the poor housing conditions could be a source of so­cial unrest.

Increased awareness of these issues was also reflected on a company management level, and the housing question was by far the biggest welfare concern in many firms. Under Gösta Ser-lachius’ leadership (1908-1942), the welfare program at GAS be­came quite elaborate and a source of pride for company mana-gement. The child and maternity services were famous even outside the company. The ‘housing question’ was an issue of on-going concern, however. Housing shortages were endemic among the growing workforce. The quality of company housing was also poor. According to one investigation, the housing standard at GAS in the 1910s was inferior to many other big industrial com­panies. As a consequence company management made efforts to improve the housing situation. In the first phase, multi-family houses were built. Each family would have an apartment with one or two rooms and a separate kitchen. A separate kitchen was considered important as it would promote the preparation of healthy and nourishing food. In the second phase, the com­pany gradually began leasing inexpensive building plots to loyal and industrious workers, promoting employees to build their own houses. Employees could also get cheap loans from the company, facilitating the construction of new homes. Building a house, preferably with a garden, was considered an uplifting activity which would foster a healthy and industrious generation of inhabitants in the newly independent country. To own your own house would also create a feeling of belonging to the com­pany and the local community, and therefore counteract possi­ble revolutionary tendencies. Encouraging workers to build their own houses was also a good economic strategy for firms, as this required less company resources than the construction of company tenements.