Norway: Biggest strike since the 1980s

“Red-Green” government forced to retreat

Nearly 50,000 have participated in a strike which was the largest in Norway since the 1980s. Public sector workers are fighting for higher wages and in defense of their contracts.

At the time of writing, those organised in the LO trade union federation in state and local government have gone back to work after two weeks. UNIO, which organises teachers and nurses, will escalate the strike from 6 June. The action which began on 24 May has resulted in closed schools and nurseries as well as closed public authorities. In some municipalities, refuse collectors went on strike which led to more closures of branches of the local authority sector.

The willingness to strike has been high, with colourful demonstrations in many communities. Strike pickets with drums marched past Stortinget (the Norwegian parliament) to be heard by politicians. Everywhere we saw angry picket lines in yellow jackets. The desire for a long strike has been great.

The demand that unions in the public sector put forward was for a 4.15 percent wage increase while the Government’s offer was 3.75 percent. It was not a big difference, and it would have cost much less than one thousandth of the state budget to meet the demands. It took a big strike to get the “red-green” government to agree to 4.1 percent.

The leadership of the local government trade union in Oslo, which negotiates separately from other municipalities, did not go on strike but had written into its contract that if others got more, they would also get it. Thus, they let others go on strike on their behalf despite the fact that support for the strike was solid among its members.

Employees in the public sector have met constant cuts, streamlining, reorganizations and new control systems. There have also been many privatizations. Care of children and old people are on offer to private companies.

Many of the slogans on May Day demanded an end to bureaucratic rule and control. “Let us do our job” it said on more than one banner. The existing right-wing policies require that fewer people will do more and more while maintaining quality. Many public sector workers are fed up that they have not received financial compensation for this, and it may explain the strong wish to strike.

Election prospects

The “red-green” government has gone into this conflict just over a year before general elections, and with the Conservative Party, Høyre strongly leading in the polls. Unionised workers and especially women in the public sector have been the most strong support for the “red-green” parties – Labour, the Socialist Left Party and the Centre Party. But after seven years in power, no expectations of an improvement in the public sector have been met.

The government has continued the right-wing policies, perhaps at a little slower tempo. This is likely to mean the “red-greens” will lose the next election, even if a government of the Conservatives and the racist Progress Party (which is likely), would aggravate things further.

In Norway today there is no militant and socialist working class movement that can fight back against the “efficiency measures” and attacks on public services. But the great strike shows that thousands are willing to go into battle for the pay and rights of those who are every day trying to maintain a good public service.

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