Happy International Workers’ Day!
On 1st May, the workers' international day of struggle is celebrated over large parts of the world. The day was introduced and marked as a demonstration day for the labor movement for the first time in 1890. The background was a demonstration in Chicago a few years earlier, where 200,000 American workers went on strike for the introduction of an eight-hour workday and several were killed in clashes between protesters and police. Because the strike had begun on 1st May, the date was chosen as international day of demonstration - and has been ever since.
In Norway, too, the International Workers' Day was marked for the first time in 1890. The requirement here - as in the United States - was an eight-hour working day. The year before, Norwegian society had also seen some of the first successful strikes. One of these was the match workers' strike, where female packers at two match factories in Oslo spontaneously stopped working to demonstrate against unhealthy work and too low wages. The strike was called off without the women getting through their demands, but the strike created awareness of unhealthy working conditions in the industry and showed the value of trade unionism.
From armed rebellion to co-determination
More than 130 years later, the shutdown of work is still the employee's most important means of struggle. In Norway, however, strikes take place in regulated forms, within the framework of the Labor Disputes Act and under the auspices of established trade unions. The labor struggle is also not met with weapons but is recognized and protected by both the Constitution and international conventions. The trade union organization and the right to strike have created a greater equality between the employer and the employee side, because the employees can fight with their very strongest weapon: their labor supply.
Fortunately, working conditions have also improved much, both in industry and elsewhere. An eight-hour working day has long been the norm in most industries, and the Working Environment Act is characterized by strong employee protection. For most employers, it is a high priority to ensure that employees feel safe and well at work - not only because the law requires it, but because it is good for production.
The relationship between the employer and the employee side has also become far less conflict-ridden than at the end of the 19th century. It has become a characteristic of the Norwegian model that the parties in working life cooperate on various challenges - whether it takes place through negotiations between the large employers 'and employees' organizations or through discussion and co-determination locally at the individual workplace. This line of cooperation gives the parties in working life stability and predictability and allows for a focus on common goals rather than clash of interests.
The 1st May parade marches on
However, the stability and predictability that prevails in Norwegian working life does not apply to everyone. In recent years, new ways of working have emerged, and thus new groups of workers who do not necessarily fit into the established system. An example is the so-called platform workers, who perform more or less independent work from a digital platform instead of working for a clearly identified employer. In both Norway and the EU, it is a priority task to put in place legal regulations that ensure the protection of these workers, while preserving the benefits of the new forms of work.
And even though Norwegian industry has come a long way, there are other places in the world where working conditions are still similar to those that prevailed in the time of the match workers. Examples include migrant workers building infrastructure ahead of this year's World Cup in Qatar and factory workers in parts of the clothing industry. A legal instrument that will help meet these challenges is the new Transparency Act, which gives larger companies a duty to provide the public with information about the production chain also outside the country's borders. The law, which enters into force on 1 July 2022, will thereby help to promote human rights and decent working conditions in other parts of the world.
So much has happened since the labor movement raised its flags on 1st May for the first time. In any case, we use the opportunity to say: Hurray for the workers, hurray for the employers and hurray for the Norwegian working life!