By Paul McGarr
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Danish government uses law to end all-out teachers’ strike

This article is over 10 years, 11 months old
Issue 2351

The Labour-led governing coalition in Denmark last week used legal powers to end a four-week all out strike by the country’s teachers.

The battle began when the employers’ body, representing local authorities, locked out Denmark’s 70,000 teachers on 2 April. This meant that over 750,000 children had to stay at home.

Teachers’ collective bargaining agreement had expired and a new agreement had not been reached.

This is because teachers rejected bosses’ demands that they work extra teaching hours and that heads should have more say over teachers’ time.

The bosses targeted teachers after the government had imposed attacks on students, pensions and benefits. It also brought in measures aimed at breaking workers’ resistance to its austerity drive.

The bosses—and the government behind the scenes—hoped to quickly break the teachers and use that victory to drive through attacks on other workers. 

Instead the attack sparked daily protests and demonstrations involving most of the country’s teachers. In one protest, teachers formed a 20-mile human chain between the capital Copenhagen and the town of Roskilde.

The government hoped it would not have to intervene in the dispute directly.

But it worried that the May Day weekend, which traditionally sees significant trade union rallies, could lead to pressure for solidarity action from other workers.


The government ended the lockout by pushing through emergency legislation to force a settlement.

This gives the employers much of what they wanted in terms of deregulation of teachers working hours and conditions.

It gives powers to individual heads in much the same way as education secretary Michael Gove wants to see here. What this will mean in practice in individual schools is yet to be seen.

But it could see head teachers determining how much time individual teachers spend on teaching, planning and preparation.

Teachers are returning to work this week with their organisation strengthened as a result of their resistance.

If teachers’ union leaders had openly called for solidarity strikes, a victory could have been won. There were signs that such a call could have found a real echo. But instead they shied away from that.

Rank and file teachers did not have the confidence to defy the law and the government, and continue the battle independently of their union leadership.

The ruling Labour Party and its left of Labour coalition partner, the Socialist People’s Party, backed the intervention in the dispute.

They did so in alliance with opposition Tory parties—and have paid a heavy political price for this. The Labour Party has hit a historic all-time low in polls. 

The Socialist People’s Party had gained at Labour’s expense in recent years by seeming to offer a left alternative. Yet it has now collapsed to less than 4 percent in polls.

The only MPs to oppose the intervention were those of the radical left Enhedslisten, sometimes dubbed the Red-Green alliance.

Members of the Socialist Workers Party’s sister organisation in Denmark work within this group.

Enhedslisten was holding its annual conference this week. 

Discussions will centre on how to take on the attacks from the government and the bosses that are sure to follow the teachers’ fight.

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