Norway’s three major trade union federations were jubilant late Wednesday afternoon after their two-hour political strike drew thousands of supporters all over the country. Police estimated that 20,000 showed up in front of the Parliament in Oslo, while nearly 200 rallies took place from Vadsø in the far north to Kristiansand in the south.
“It’s overwhelming to see that there are so many of us here today,” Gerd Kristiansen, head of the largest labour federation LO, told the cheering crowd in Oslo. They were all protesting the government’s proposed changes to arbeidsmiljøloven, the law governing working conditions in Norway.
The government wants to ease its regulations and allow employers to hire more temporary workers without offering them permanent jobs. The government also contends the changes would give both employers and employees more flexibility. The labour movement counters that employees could be forced to work more overtime and more weekends.
The strike grounded flights from 2-4pm, halted bus, train, tram and metro lines, closed day care centers and disrupted a wide range of other services around the country. Several stranded passengers at Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), though, that they didn’t mind the delays and understood why workers were striking. So did many passengers at local train and tram stations.
Embattled Labour Minister Robert Eriksson went into the proverbial lion’s den Wednesday afternoon, when he spoke to the thousands gathered before the Parliament at a rally organized by trade union federations LO, YS and Unio. He said he had a dream that everyone outside the workforce will get a chance to experience “serious worklife” like those enjoyed by the strikers. He was booed off the podium.
His government’s proposal, which could create more jobs, is likely to win majority support in Parliament, though. The small Liberal Party (Venstre) backs the liberalization proposed by the two government parties (the Conservatives and the Progress Party), and that’s expected to give them the votes they need to get the measures passed.