Organizing Workers in a Changing Labour Market: The Norwegian Experience

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 14:30
Location: Hörsaal 48 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Ole Johnny OLSEN, Department of Sociology, University of Bergen, Norway
Isak LEKVE, Department of Sociology, University of Bergen, Norway
Compared to most other advanced capitalist countries in the global North, the Scandinavian labor movements – and not the least the Norwegian trade unions – have been spared the most severe consequences of neoliberal globalization. Union density has remained relative stable and labor market regulations have been defended. Indeed, it is mostly in connection with intensified labour migration that Norwegian unions have experienced the most direct impacts, as the use of labor migrants particularly in the Norwegian construction industry and oil-related manufacturing exploded after the inclusion of Eastern European countries in the EU from 2004. A special challenge for the unions in this situation was the growing tendency to employ workers through temporary staff agencies and  subcontracting. In meeting this situation, the union that organizes workers in these branches of the economy was, after initial resistance from employers and several years of political and ideological preparation, succeeded in establishing an institutional framework for securing equal pay for equal work, based on their slogan of “we are the union of all construction workers in Norway, not only the Norwegian workers”. A central element was the use of a general application of the collective agreements, which prescribes the right of access of the local unions to tenders from subcontractors and temporary staff agencies, which gives them the opportunity to control the use of subcontractors with regular agreements.  In this paper we will discuss the role of local union leaders in their observations of the general agreement, their attempts of organizing the foreign workers and urging them to make demands for collective agreements, under conditions of radical transformations of manning and work organisations through extended use of subcontracting and temporary work agencies. The paper builds on ongoing research and its empirical basis is mainly interviews with local and regional union leaders.