The whole of Norway will come to a halt for two hours on 28 January. The main trade union federation, LO, and the rest of the trade union movement are bringing out all of their members in a general strike against the attacks on workers’ conditions being made by the ‘Blue-blue’ government - Conservatives and the right-wing populist and racist Progress Party.
The new Working Environment Act makes it easier to create temporary rather than full-time jobs, extends the normal working day and repeals the right of unions to stop dangerous work. Already many workers, for example in health care, have long working days which endanger their own health and lead to high staff turnover and a great deal of workers taking sick leave.
The LO believes that the new Working Environment Act will transfer power from labour to capital and weaken the trade union movement. The LO in Trondheim links the fight against the Working Environment Act to the fight against the government in general. They say that the government is the government of capital. It is giving tax cuts to the wealthiest (amounting to 4.5 billion Norwegian kronors so far), carrying through privatisation in health care and education as well as selling off state-owned enterprises.
70 percent of young workers against
There is a lot of resistance against the new Working Environment Act in all age groups. Overall, 62 percent of people are against. Among young people, new on the labour market and with little experience of working life, 70 percent are against. “But,” says Prime Minister Erna Solberg, "this was what you voted for!".
140,000 workers in Norway have shorter working hours than they would like. As OECD figures show, having more temporary jobs does not increase the number of jobs; it only makes permanent jobs temporary.
This is not the first strike against the new Working Environment Act. On 23 September, several big unions organised strike action and mass mobilisations. But this time it is the entire trade union movement.
The attacks on the Working Environment Act are an attack on what the labour movement has historically achieved through struggle and therefore an important symbolic issue. It is forcing the union leadership to be seen to do something. But, as it stands today, they are unlikely to escalate the fight enough to win. The previous government - of the Labour Party (Ap) and the Socialist Left Party -introduced no radical reforms. Now the question is whether they manage to defend what has been achieved historically.
Opposition to the ‘Blue-blue’ government is great. The Labour Party has gone up to 41 per cent in the polls, while the government parties declined by 4 percentage points each. But support for the Ap is not accompanied by any enthusiasm. The new Ap leader, Jonas Gahr Støre, has no different policies from the previous Red-Green government that lost the election in September 2013. He says he wants to preserve the Working Environment Act, but also wants a "restructuring of working life" but for it to happen "in dialogue with the trade union movement". He is thus better able to implement counter-reforms because he can do it “in dialogue” with the LO leadership.
Nor is the Socialist Left Party standing for a fighting alternative. It is now below the 4 percent threshold for getting into the Storting (parliament) after having fallen sharply when the party was participating in government.
The teachers’ strike in the summer and early autumn showed a strong fighting morale. 6,000 teachers went on strike against deteriorating working hours and micro-management.
What is needed now is that the general strike in January is just the first step. The defence of the former Working Environment Act needs to be linked to an offensive against the government’s blue-blue policies with their large tax cuts for the wealthy and poorer working conditions for us.