Workers returned to work May 9 following an agreement between the employers association NHO, and the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO). The new contract, involving 17 unions, covers 300,000 workers employed by private companies, including basic industries in the country.
The workers had voted down the original contract by a 64 percent margin, setting off the strike May 3.
"I voted no because I am tired of hearing that the workers always should sacrifice and save money for the companies--even on work gloves," stated Roger Haugsrud, who works as a repair man at the auto parts factory in Raufoss, 90 miles north of Oslo.
The increase of 0.75 Norwegian krone (1 krone= US 11 cents) offered by the compa
nies in the original contract, was "too little for three years," said Erik Fossum, a worker at Tiedemanns tobacco factory in Oslo where 73 percent rejected the original pact.
'If we don't do it now, then when?'
Jorid Andreassen was picketing May 8 outside the Freja chocolate factory in Oslo where she has worked for 36 years. She thought the pay was too little and the length of the contract too long. "They want us to shut up for three years for so little money," she said. "We did not press our demands when there was a crisis, but if we don't do it now, when should we do it?"
At Freja, 81 percent of the workers rejected the original contract. "Here there has not been a strike since 1961," said Bente Løvaas. She and Andreassen discussed the demand for a fifth week of vacation. In the original contract offer three of the days would not be implemented until 2002.
"In my opinion the hourly rise of 0.75 kroner is completely unacceptable, almost an insult," said Jan Olav Treholt, who works with maintenance at the draught beer department at Ringnes brewery in Oslo. Treholt said he opposed the bosses' demand in the original contract that employers be allowed to impose flexible hours according to their production needs.
He and Terje Brånek explained how workers at Ringnes successfully resisted an attempt by the company there to impose these hours two years ago. "Such schedules will mean no overtime pay and no extra pay for evenings until 10:00 p.m. You are supposed to be at the employers' disposal when more production is needed," he said. "They are cutting down all the way to the bone, loading all the extra work onto the backs of those who remain," Jan Olav explained. "If this goes on, the normal workweek will get a punch in the face."
"We accepted very low local pay raises for several years because the company said they would not lay off as many people if we did. So we got little pay but the company laid off anyway," said Terje.
At Ringnes, 94 percent of the workers voted against the original contract.
The brewery workers explained that friends and family were very supportive of the strike. "We have to stick together in this. For example, when the hotel and restaurant workers union asked for help, 60 of us decided to march down to two of the hotels," Brånek explained.
Terje Johansen, a worker at Hotel Bristol in central Oslo, was at the picket line there when the brewery workers arrived May 5. "It was great to see them come, at 6:00 in the morning, with flags and banners," he explained. Management at this and another hotel had kept them open with unorganized workers, mainly room cleaners who work on a temporary basis. "The brewery workers went on to the other hotel, Hotel Slottsparken, to show solidarity there too. I am ready to help anyone who needs it after getting such solidarity!" stated Johansen.
The auto parts factory in Raufoss employs 2,100 production workers and is the biggest industry in a rural area 90 miles north of Oslo. This factory has a big market share of auto parts in Sweden and Germany.
Production at Saab's main auto plant in Trollhättan, Sweden, stopped May 8–9 due to lack of parts from a struck factory in Norweig. If the strike had continued, thousands of workers assembling cars and trucks in Sweden, and tens of thousands in Germany, would have eventually been sent home as well.
To put pressure on the strikers, the employers in Sweden and Germany threatened to stop buying auto parts from the factory in Raufoss. "That is what they said when we struck in 1996 too, but actually production here increased after the strike," said Roger Haugsrud, picketing outside the Raufoss main gate.
Other workers at Raufass proudly told these reporters that the Metal Workers Union in Sweden and IG Metall in Germany had promised to block the use of parts from other factories during the strike.
The tentative contract, signed May 9, runs for two years. The hourly wage increase will be 1.50 krone for the first year and 1 krone for the second, as opposed to 0.75 and zero respectively in the original contract. Workers with 87 percent of the average pay and less will get 2 kroner extra the first year and 1.50 extra the second. The workers will get two more vacation days in 2001 and two days in 2002, as opposed to one and three in the contract that was voted down. There is no change in the clause on flexible hours.
'We have shown it was right to strike'
"In a way I am disappointed, but in many ways it is a victory," explained Løvaas outside the Freja chocolate factory as she came to work on May 9. "We have shown it was right to strike and the new contract is better. We have made other gains too. There has been so much activity and enthusiasm during the strike. That is maybe even more important than the contract itself."
The proposed contract has been recommended for a yes vote by officials of all 17 unions, as opposed to the original contract, which was rejected by leaders of four of the unions. Workers will vote on the new contract before May 25.
The public workers unions are now in negotiations for a new national contract and can strike starting May 26. Expectations are rising as the strike forced the employers in the private sector to make some concessions.
Carl-Erik Isacsson and Catharina Tirsén are members of the Metal Workers Union in Södertälje and Stockholm, respectively.
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