Jens ready for a ‘different’ May 1st

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Jens Stoltenberg, Norway’s prime minister from the Labour Party who’s popularly known simply as “Jens,” was heading for Bergen on Tuesday to speak at this year’s May 1st Labour Day celebrations. Both the leader and deputy leader of Bergen’s chapter of Labour youth organization AUF were killed in the terrorist attacks last summer, so Stoltenberg was stepping in help fill the void.

Labour Party leader and Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg concedes Tuesday will be a "different" sort of Labour Day in Norway, but that it's values are the same. PHOTO: Arbeiderpartiet

Norway’s Labour Day on May 1st is a national holiday, but many take it seriously and spend it attending or speaking at political rallies, marching in parades or simply cheering them on as spectators. Labour union officials and politicians, especially those from the Labour Party, are perhaps the busiest of all, and officials of Norway’s Labour-led government have fanned out all over the country to appear at public rallies, parades and parties.

Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, for example, was scheduled to speak on Tuesday in the Stavanger area, Finance Minister Sigbjørn Johnsen in Fredrikstad and Sarpsborg, Defense Minister Espen Barth Eide in Stange and Ringsaker and Justice Minister Grete Faremo in Vik and Sogndal. Labour Party secretary Raymond Johansen was speaking at rallies in Bodø and Sulitjelma, while former minister and Labour Party official Helga Pedersen was heading for Svalbard. Former Prime Minister Thorbjørn Jagland, now head of the Council of Europe and the Norwegian Nobel Committee, would speak in Oslo along with the head of the trade union confederation LO, Roar Flåthen.

It’s the first Labour Day since the Labour Party was attacked by a home-grown, right-wing terrorist, and Stoltenberg told newspaper Dagsavisen on Monday that it would be a “different” sort of tribute this year. He claimed, though, that the day traditionally meant to glorify workers would have the same goals, which he thinks are more important than ever.

Stoltenberg speaking at a Labour Day rally a few years ago. PHOTO: Arbeiderpartiet

“The first of May will be different this year,” Stoltenberg conceded. “I’ll be thinking about the many AUF members who would have been here, marched in the parades and taken part in tributes. I’ll go to Bergen, where both the leader of AUF and the deputy leader were killed on Utøya.”

Stoltenberg stressed that Labour Day tributes would still highlight the same fundamental values as in every other year, perhaps with even more solidarity and emphasis on freedom and fellowship. “We’ve seen that can’t just be taken for granted, like we sometimes think,” Stoltenberg told Dagsavisen.

Even though Norway has a highly organized labour market, low unemployment, high average wages compared to many other countries and a history of generally polite negotiations between workers and employers, Stoltenberg doesn’t think the campaign for workers’ rights or the values of solidarity and fellowship have gone out of style.

“No!” he said. “My message is that May 1st has just been modernized. I intend to thank our entrepreneurs (who help create jobs). It’s all about the future. Many of the values from 1890, when the first Labour Day parade was held in Oslo, are still values that belong to our times. ‘Arbeid for alle’ (“Work for Everyone”)  is still important.”

He noted that “there’s been a lot of feelings and words” since the July 22 attacks, but solidarity has been strong, as witnessed in last week’s song demonstration that drew 40,000 people to the Oslo city square called Youngstorget.

That’s where Tuesday’s Labour Day rally in Oslo will take place starting at 11:30am, after various tributes and gatherings in local neighbourhoods earlier in the day. The graves of late Labour Leaders at the cemeteries Vestre Gravlund and Vår Frelsers, for example, will be decorated from 8:45am before the program and parade from Youngstorget begins.

Flåthen of the trade union federation LO noted that the setting at Youngstorget, close to where the bomb exploded at the government complex on July 22, will provide an even more special “framework” around Labour Day this year. “It will remind us how important it is to fight for democracy and diversity and not take it for granted,” Flåthen told newspaper Aftenposten.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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