May is for strikes

I remember strikes used to terrify me. I was so brain-washed by the American view of unions that I quit mine here in Norway once in a panic. I rejoined quickly and have a gold pin for 25 years’ membership and first-hand knowledge of what it’s like to be on a proper strike.
As April rolls around, unions start negotiations. It’s a bi-annual thing. My union (the union of financial and insurance employees) does its thing in even-numbered years. This year it’s a tad more interesting than usual. We’ve broken off negotiations. There are three main points of contention that my union won’t agree to. If we don’t get anywhere, even with mandatory negotiations, there will be a strike.

This whole process will take at least a month. So I lied when I said May is for strikes. It can just as well be June, or April, or September. Or whenever. But Norway revolves around May 1, and most unions release their new wage scales on that date, and the government sets the value for G on that same date.

G is short for “grunnbeløp” or base amount, from which things like social security payments, group life insurance payouts, and other benefits are calculated. I have a life insurance policy through my employer that pays out 5 G should I leave the planet before retirement. Minimum pension through social security in Norway is 2 G. I expect they’ll announce what G for 2018 is later this week. For 2017, it’s NOK 93.634. (That’s not much what with our cost of living.)

I rejoined the union. Not only is there safety in numbers, but there’s power, too. That’s the point: A single voice doesn’t carry the way a group of voices does. I’ve participated in political strikes (usually two hours of not working by leaving a couple of hours early) and an outright strike with standing in front of our employer’s building holding signs and spending two weeks waiting to be told to go back to work.

Norwegian employers like unions. It’s easier to talk sense to one party rather than hundreds. And often that’s how it works out: Union reps get to participate in (some) management decisions and then turn around and explain the decisions to us workers. For the most part, it all goes smoothly. I think Norwegian management enjoys a high level of trust and loyalty. But union membership is going down. Many things unions had to fight for are now labor law so union membership isn’t seen as a vital part of work life.

I think it is. I see (and feel) changes in the workplace and government that are eroding workers’ rights and we need watchdogs as well as understanding of what the changes are and why. Some are inevitable; some are just because someone’s greedy (or stupid).

When I lost my job in 2014 due to downsizing, I had a lovely union rep who made sure all the legalities were in order as well as being great to talk to. So I had more than HR’s equally lovely employee helping me out, which I really appreciated. So I’m staying a union member.

By the way, my union strikes so rarely that when we had our big two-week strike in 2006, many of us had never done that before. It wasn’t just me who was clueless. We also didn’t win.

I hope we do this year. Enough erosion!

Happy International Labor Day!

By Keera Ann Fox

I am a bi-lingual American who has lived most of my life in Norway.
Jeg er en tospråklig amerikaner som har bodd mesteparten av mitt liv i Norge.

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