May Day is Labour Day in Norway, with a capital “L.” Both the Labour Party and the country’s major trade union confederation LO have been busy planning their speeches, parades and flag-waving for the annual May 1st holiday on Thursday, their first without government power in eight years.
“No to privatization and welfare cuts!”
“Keep stores closed on Sundays!”
“More permanent and less part-time employment!”
“Boycott Israel! Withdraw Oil Fund investments from Israeli companies!”
The boxed ads placed by LO in local newspapers with their political appeals have been running for weeks, also advertising when the annual Labour Day Parade in Oslo will actually begin from the large central square known as Youngstorget (12:45pm). The music and speeches start at 11:25am, with LO leader Gerd Kristiansen taking the podium around noon. Similar gatherings and parades are held in other cities and towns around Norway.
Outgoing Labour Party leader Jens Stoltenberg will be speaking on Svalbard this year, incoming party leader Jonas Gahr Støre at Salangen in Troms, Northern Norway. Party secretary Raymond Johansen will be in Stavanger, Sandnes and Bryne in Rogaland, and the party’s deputy leader Helga Pedersen will be in Southern Norway, at Risør, Eydehavn and Grimstad.
The 1st of May, a national holiday in Norway, is a very big deal for the Labour Party, with all of its Members of Parliament either fanned out across the country for speaking assignments and public appearances or sent back to their hometowns. Union leaders also spread out around the country, from Tromsø in the north to Moss n the south.
Their mission is to rally the troops on both labour and political issues. With the holiday falling in the middle of the annual labour negotiating season, it’s important to raise spirits and send Oslo-based labour celebrities out to the provinces. Labour’s veteran Foreign Minister Thorvald Stoltenberg, father of Jens, will be in Kongsvinger and Åsnes on Thursday after first leading a tradional “all-song” gathering the night before in Groruddalen in Oslo. Geir Lippestad, the famed defense attorney and head of Labour’s new think tank Agenda, will be in Eidsvoll, where Norway’s constitution was signed 200 years ago.
May 1st is rather like the 17th of May for the working classes. Folks get up early, get dressed up and spend the day visiting the graves of fallen leaders, marching in parades and mingling with one another. Former Defense and Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide, who now works for the World Economic Forum in Geneva, will return home to Norway to host an open house at Folkets Hus in Oslo after the parade, with entertainer and fellow Labour Party veteran Åse Kleveland expected to sing a few songs.
It all boils down to an arena for political grandstanding, especially important now that Labour is in opposition in Parliament, instead of in position at government headquarters. It’s their solemn duty to lash out at the Conservatives and complain about almost anything their new government has done since winning the election last fall. Their political counterparts often hold their own arrangements, or simply take the day off, if not an entire long weekend this year.