In an unusual turn of events, around 150 employees of Norway’s largest trade union confederation, LO, have voted to go on strike themselves from Friday. They claim colleagues organized in other LO unions receive higher pay than they do.
The unhappy workers are all members of the LO union Handel og kontor (HK), which represents thousands of retail and office employees in Norway. They work for a variety of trade unions that are part of LO’s confederation. According to the labour website frifagbevegelse.no, this is the first time in history that employees of LO unions have resorted to strike against the huge confederation that usually organizes strikes itself.
It’s a delicate conflict that embarrassed LO officials haven’t wanted to talk about very much in the week leading up to Friday’s strike. Only a few media reports of the labour conflict within the labour organization itself have leaked out, but newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) could report more details on Thursday.
According to DN, the conflict bubbled over when the union HK demanded to gain more insight into what members of other LO unions earned. HK claims that LO employees who are members of the larger unions Fagforbundet and Fellesforbundet have had “better pay development” than HK members have had.
“Given the statistics it can seem that some groups within the labour movement have enjoyed high earnings, while our members have been more responsible and paid the bill,” Bjørn Mietinen, deputy leader of HK, wrote on HK’s own website. “We’re simply asking to get the actual numbers on the table.”
Mietinen told DN that he based his claim on figures from state statistics bureau SSB. He claims the trade union federation LO, in its role as an employer, must give its unions insight into its own salary statistics. LO officials allegedly have been unwilling to share the salary numbers, although they claim they have tried to satisfy HK’s demands.
Mietinen denied it was “special” that the union would go on strike “against its own,” claiming instead that HK’s looming strike simply shows “that the system works. If employees and their employer disagree, then there’s a conflict.” Several of the HK-organized workers set to go on strike actually work for Fagforbundet and Fellesforbundet among other unions under the LO umbrella.
Powerful LO leader Gerd Kristiansen seemed to agree. “Salary negotiations within the labour union movement follow the same rules as in business,” Kristiansen stated on LO’s website Thursday afternoon. “We must accept that when it hasn’t been possible to reach agreement after negotiations, that a strike can therefore be a fact.” The strike due to start Friday is technically between HK and the organization behind LO in its role as employer, Arbeiderbevegelsens Arbeidsgiverforening (AAF). Kristiansen stressed that she must now defer to AAF, as the actual involved partner in the conflict.
Handel og Kontor (HK) is the third-largest of LO’s major unions, with around 65,000 members in Norway. It’s led by Trine Lise Sundnes, one of LO’s more high-profile leaders.