Almost every evening on the Norwegian National Television (NRK) there are reports of the small farmers and workers in revolt. They are seen blocking motorways and roads with their tractors or dumping manure on the steps of Parliament (Storting). Their claim is for better wages and conditions. Some, like the farmers in India, have driven on tractors for many days to the capital city – in this case, Oslo – to demonstrate. These actions started on the 27th of April and are still going on (as of 13th May).
The list of demands from these self-employed farmers amounts to a total package of subsidies from the conservative (Hoyre) government costing 2.1 billion Norwegian kroner. They include a personal supplement of NOK 18,700 per annum (an additional NOK 30,000 per annum, would be needed to approach the income of other groups of workers in other industries, for example.)
There is a demand that welfare schemes should include holidays and statutory leisure time and they are asking for provisions that make farming a more attractive profession for women. Another point in their programme is a special investment package of NOK 450 million to cover any transition to the farming of beef cattle.
The farmers are taking action into their own hands while the leaders of their organisations are watching from the sidelines. The ‘leaders’ of these land-workers suffer from the same malady as most ‘leaders’ of trade unions around the world, often totally cut off from the members and enjoying huge salaries and secure contracts,
The CWI has always called for all trade union representatives to take only the wages of an ordinary worker, for example, of a nurse working in the wards of a hospital. And these workers’ representatives should be democratically elected and subject to recall, just like shop stewards in the workplace.
The CWI stands solidly with all farmworkers around the world in their battle for a decent living wage.
Huge bonuses for bosses but not for workers
A particular grievance in Norway is that the leaders of the farmers’ cooperatives rake in millions, while those who work in the fields are at the bottom of the wage statistics. The bosses of the farmers’ cooperative – Tine and Nortura – sit at the top of the wage ladder in agriculture, with salaries of from 3.8 to 4.1 million kroner. In addition, they receive pensions and other benefits, while the farmworkers have a long working day and can expect to receive just 250 to 300,000 kroner per annum. Many farmers and the workers out in the fields and on the farms have the lowest incomes and wages in the whole of Norwegian society.
This is also happening in the second year of the covid virus. The farmer-bosses are used to importing cheaper labour from other areas of Europe and Asia to help with the harvesting for example of potatoes, fruit, and vegetables. These big farmers and landowners are now in difficulties because, instead of training Norwegian workers and paying them normal wages, they usually employ cheap labour. They are now addicted to this cheap labour and it is impossible for a Norwegian worker to work for the same wages. So these exploiters are doing everything they can to press the Conservative government to reduce the restrictions for travelling over national borders. This happened last year and it led to small villages and communities getting heavily infected with the virus. The current lack of imported cheap labour strengthens the demands of the farmworkers’ union.
The land-workers who organise themselves – employees in the agricultural and horticultural sector – are in a trade union called the Fellesforbundet. They are paid amongst the lowest wages in Norway. They are often working for big firms that produce non-dairy produce – fruit, grain and vegetables – and make big profits.
Most of the small farmers are self-employed and organised in the farmers’ group, Norges Bondelag. They number around 61,000 members. Many of them have additional jobs to make ends meet. It is a long day if you are a dairy farmer in Norway, getting up at four in the morning to do the milking and later doing the evening shift.
Often the farmers’ wives have a double or triple burden – caring for children, along with a day job and then working late on the farm. This is heavy work and many farmworkers are worn out before their pensionable age. And even when they get there, they have to get by on a low pension.
The methods and tactics of these farmworkers will be an inspiration to the rest of the workers, who are queuing up for a decent wage rise. Amongst others will be the nurses who were given a shameful offer of a 0% wage rise.
Nobody should cross any picket line – be it of farmworkers or nurses – fighting for just wage increases after a harrowing year of coronavirus.
An old slogan of the Norwegian Labour Party used to be, “Town and land hand in hand” – possibly influenced by the revolution in nearby Russia. A fighting slogan for today needs to be: ‘No return to the poverty of the 1930s. We are not going to pay for this crisis!’.