By Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2813

‘Stand up for right to strike,’ Norwegian socialists after Labour government bans oil workers’ action

Norway’s Labour government stepped in against the oil workers’ strike using a draconian law
Issue 2813
A picture of Norway's minister of labour Marte Mjøs Persen to illustrate a story about the Norway oil strike

The minister of labour Marte Mjøs Persen halted Norway’s oil and gas strike (Picture: Wikimedia/Creative Commons)

A Labour government in Norway has used the war in Ukraine “as an excuse to forbid strikes” by oil and gas workers.

The minister of labour Matre Mjos Persen stopped the Ledere union’s walkout on Friday using a draconian law. The action by the supervisors and technicians would have slashed gas supplies by 60 percent.

Persen claimed she had “no choice but to intervene” when it has such “great social consequences for the whole of Europe.” It’s a warning about how states will try to stem workers’ action through appeals to a fake “national interest” in times of war.

Linda, a Norwegian trade unionist and leader of the Red Party in Nordland county, says it shows how “the state protects its interests and not working class interests”. “The strike would have cost Norway around 1.8 billion kronor a day,” she told Socialist Worker. “We see a more and more aggressive employers’ side and they use the government to push back workers’ interests and rights.

“I’m a nurse, and every time my union tries to go strike the government tries to stop it.”

The law allows the state to force workers back to work if their action threatens health and safety or “other seriously damaging effects on society”. The union is forced to take part in what’s known as a “compulsory wages board”, a state-run arbitration service. 

Per-Gunnar, a Red Party member and former miners’ union organiser, says the state is fairly “free to define” damaging effects on society. “It has undermined the right to strike,” he told Socialist Worker. “ “On this occasion, there were no safety issues at all. It was economic consequences—and one of the reasons to go on strike is to pressure employers to give in to your demands.”

He added, “We are at the beginning of a worldwide economic crisis and the attacks on the union movement will intensify. We have to raise the right to strike without any legislation to stop it.”

Per-Gunnar said it was “a weakness of the labour movement that we don’t challenge this by supporting unions” to keep striking.

After the labour minister’s intervention, the Ledere union Audun Ingvartsen said workers would be “going back to work as soon as possible”. In the past, the oil unions have defied the bans and continued.

Helge Ryggvik, a researcher on the Norwegian oil and gas industry, told Socialist Worker Ledere was “forced into a strike by the votes of their members”. “In this year’s wage negotiations the oil companies agreed to a deal supported by the majority of the two major unions,” he explained.

“There was a vote of around 60 to 40 percent for it, but it was the opposite in Ledere. The leadership didn’t want to, but was forced by members.”

The law is linked to the Nordic labour model—“social partnership” between the government, bosses and unions. Among other measures, this system sets a roof on wage negotiations and holds back workers pushing for more.

Linda added that the links between Labour and unions are “increasingly a larger problem”. “We’ve had a lot of conflicts where the Labour Party just told unions to stop making a fuss,” she said. “It controls the unions much more than unions control Labour.”

But there are signs of hope in Norway. The SAS pilots’ strike, which began on Monday, is shaping up into a titanic battle with the bosses—and it’s gaining widespread support.

Per-Gunnar said the mainstream media didn’t get the reactions they’d expected from commuters at airports. “They were saying things like, ‘Without unions, we wouldn’t have any vacation to go on.’,” he said. “It’s gaining lots of support in the labour movement”.

Topics

Sign up for our daily email update ‘Breakfast in Red’

Latest News

Make a donation to Socialist Worker

Help fund the resistance
One-off