sweden: 1,800 mineworkers walk out on strike

"We demand our share of record profits"

1,800 mineworkers in northern Sweden have been on strike since Monday, 7 May. They are demanding their share of the incredible profits of the state-owned mining company known as LKAB.

The unofficial, ‘wild cat’ strike broke out at midday on Monday. It followed a union meeting of the miners 775 metres underground in the iron ore mine at Kiruna in the far north of Sweden. The workers had been told that the company bosses had broken off all negotiations on wages, offering as a pay rise only the low figure arrived at in the central wage bargaining. Within an hour, the strike had spread to the other mine of LKAB in Malmberget. By the end of the day the strike was total, including all LKAB surface-workers.

Illegal strikes

According to Swedish law, strikes are illegal after a central deal has been signed. Official trade union support for the strike can lead to huge fines. This has traditionally prevented many strikes lasting. Few are longer than a day. It has suited the bureaucratic trade union leaders who are against strikes and open class struggle anyway. For local unions, it means that even leaderships who strongly support such a strike have to say publicly they are not behind it.

"I understand the strikers, even though the union cannot support a wild cat strike. The workers are demanding a re-opening of the negotiations, otherwise they will not work," says the leader of the miners’ union branch in Kiruna, Harry Rantakyrö, in an interview with Offensiv, the weekly paper of Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI Sweden).

The strike has been in the air. The miners want a 4,000 SEK (440 euros) wage rise, compared to the central deal of 800 SEK. According to the trade union newspaper, Dagens Arbete, the workers are simply demanding a payback from the most profitable company in world. When the company broke off negotiations on Friday, the strike was more or less inevitable.

"Following the trade union meeting, we quickly decided not to go back to work unless the local negotiations start again," one striker told Offensiv.

Biggest strike for decades

The strike is total from all workers down in the mine and on the ground – loaders, drillers, electricians, repair workers and others. This is then the biggest strike in the area since 1984, maybe since the historic two-month miners’ strike in 1969-70.

Late on Tuesday, striking miner, Sixten Snell, told Offensiv: "We’ve been falling behind and never received any local money of any size, not since the 1990s. Whatever the government, there is always someone talking about the risk of inflation, telling us what little room there is for wage increases and that we should show solidarity. But they never talk about the inflation caused by the rich people who live in the Stockholm region. Now they are talking about new central negotiations. They needn’t bother; it would only give us a few twenty kronor-notes!"

Earlier on Tuesday, the company boss, Martin Ivert, himself known for the notoriously high pension payment he gets, had attended a meeting in Malmberget, where the miners showed real anger. One of them declared: "We miners were prepared to lower our wage demands when the mines were showing bad results. Now, when profits are up, workers are demanding the wages should go up!"

What Offensiv says

The following is an extract from editorial in Offensiv this week:

It is no coincidence that miners are the first for a long time in Sweden to come out in a ‘wild cat’ strike for higher wages. According to Dagens Arbete, a trade union newspaper, LKAB is among the most profitable companies in the world. The profits compared to net turnover are 45 per cent, way higher then the Chinese bank ranked number one in the Fortune’s List of the 500 most profitable companies in 2006!

The company boss, Martin Ivert, has named the miners’ demands "incredible". But in reality, it is the profits made out of the workers’ unpaid work that are incredible. Profits last year were 6,832 million SEK (700 million euros). That is a profit of 1.95 million SEK per worker! The profits have since continued to increase in the first quarter this year.

If all the 3,500 workers in the company got the 4,000 SEK a month demanded, that would only cost 168 million SEK a year – just 2 per cent of the company profits!

Behind the unwillingness of the incredibly highly paid bosses of LKAB stand the state, the employers’ federations and the trade union bureaucracy – all of them afraid of the power of the example being set by the miners’ strike. Other mineworkers and steelworkers are bound to be inspired. We can expect a ‘hot’ local wage round for example at the state steel producer, SSAB. It is the world’s most profitable steel producer.

In fact, most of the companies on the Swedish stock exchange are reaching all-time high profits this year – on average an increase of 13 per cent in the first quarter of 2007! In addition to that, the new right-wing government is attacking the unemployed and abolishing taxes for the rich. In this situation, the mineworkers’ strike can inspire a far broader protest movement against the government.

Messages of support

Solidarity messages are arriving for the miners, including from Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (RS, CWI Sweden) and RS members in the unions.

We are asking others, including socialists and trade unionists internationally, to follow their example.

Demand that all wage deals should be under the democratic control of union members!

Full support for the miners to win a total victory!

Messages should be sent to postbox.avd01@ifmetall.se and postbox.avd02@ifmetall.se

Plus copy to offensiv@socialisterna.org


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May 2007