Labour working on Labour Day

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Norway’s traditional Labour Day celebrations on May 1 were taking on distinctly political overtones this year, as the Labour Party and others on the left side of Norwegian politics gear up for the fall election campaigns. They’re keen to hang on to power in the looming parliamentary election on September 9, and weren’t missing the opportunity to spread their message.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg would once again be the keynote speaker at Labour Day celebrations on May 1st in Oslo. He planned to speak at Youngstorget at 12:30pm, before the annual Labour Day parade begins. PHOTO: Arbeiderpartiet

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg would once again be the keynote speaker at Labour Day celebrations on May 1st in Oslo. He planned to speak at Youngstorget at 12:30pm, before the annual Labour Day parade begins. PHOTO: Arbeiderpartiet

Local programs for the day otherwise resembled a peoples’ party, with brass bands, flags, banners, special church services and buffets. In many cities, festivities started the night before with community sing-alongs like the Allsangkveld scheduled at Litteraturhuset in Oslo at 6pm. Official Labour Day events would start early the next morning, highlighted by parades later in the day.

While the May 1 national holiday is for many just seen as a day off from work, others in the labour movement take it very seriously indeed and insist that it remains an important kampdag – a day to campaign for workers’ rights.

“May 1st is important because the day gathers all the labour unions and the political parties that support the same issues,” Roy Pedersen, leader of the trade union federation LO in Oslo, told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). “The union leaders can lodge their demands that employers and government authorities take care of employees’ rights. I think May 1 is both a campaign day and a day to have fun.”

Thousands filled Oslo's "Youngstorget," which Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev just last week was the closest thing Norway has to Red Square in Moscow. First of May rallies in the square are an important tradition in Oslo. PHOTO: Views and News

Crowds at an earlier Labour Day celebration in Oslo. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Despite Norway’s strong economy and low unemployment, Pedersen still thinks May 1 is relevant and, at the very least, a day to celebrate progress made over the years. But the battles aren’t over, he said. “The challenges today resemble some of those that the labour movement faced in its childhood,” he told DN. “We see for example increased market power, control over worktime and social dumping as big issues.”

This year’s celebrations will clearly reflect 2013 as an election year, with labour leaders all urging Norwegians to vote against parties that would form a non-socialist (borgerlig) government. Labour leaders (both in the movement and the party) claim that would usher in more privatization, more power for employers and less for employees.

Pedersen, who was leading the LO-organized events starting at 11:25am at Youngstorget in Oslo, was expecting thousands to gather in the downtown square and then march up Karl Johans Gate. The keynote speaker would be Labour Party leader and Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, in addition to appeals from  Heikki Holmås of the Socialist Left party (SV), Bjørnar Moxnes of the Reds (Rødt) and Silje Lundberg of the environmental activist group Natur og Ungdom.

Moxnes told newspaper Aftenposten over the weekend that he thinks May 1st is more important than ever. “We need to remember how quickly the good times can turn bad,” Moxnes said. “We need to stress our solidarity, especially at a time when one out of four persons in Europe is out of work. The need for soup kitchens is greater than ever. We need to think about Norway’s role as a creditor and a lender.” He thinks Norway should offer even more financial assistance abroad than it does, without so many conditions.

All of the Labour Party government ministers would be making appearances and speaking at local May 1 celebrations around the country. Trade Minister Trond Giske would be speaking in Askim, Sarpsborg and Fredrikstad, for example, with Jonas Gahr Støre  in Porsgrunn and Skien, Finance Minister Sigbjørn at home in Hamar and Løten and party secretary Raymond Johansen making four speeches on Wednesday in Trondheim.

In addition to the main events in city centres, there would be local memorials and celebrations in various neighbourhoods. In Oslo, for example, the left-wing Osvald resistance group during World War II was getting a memorial plaque at Østbanehallen at 9:30am. There would be breakfasts and lunches and wreath-layings at the graves of many former Labour leaders.

And then it would be back to work for most on Thursday, except those who managed to take off for a long weekend.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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