Norway’s leftist political parties were out in full force on the May 1st Labour Day holiday, using the beautiful weather and crowds to mobilize support in advance of the Parliamentary election in September. Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre gave the main speech in Oslo and then led the parade through the city’s streets, walking side-by-side with Bjørnar Moxnes of the Reds Party.
They marched among banners reading everything from “Boycott Israel” to urgig the abolition of the trade agreement Norway has with the EU (Nei til EØS), but Støre was quick to clarify that neither he nor his party support such stances. “I agree with many of the banners, but not all,” Støre told newspaper Aftenposten. “That’s just the way it is on the 1st of May. There are many banners and they’re approved with varying majorities. Then folks can choose to march behind those they’re comfortable with.”
He claimed he does not favour a boycott of Israel, nor does he want to cut the official workday to just six hours. His own party supports Norway’s trade agreement with the EU (the so-called EØS-avtalen) and his party wants to allow oil exploration and production not far from Lofoten, in the waters just west of Røst. That’s in direct opposition to another parade banner that called for Varig vern of LoVeSe, (lasting protection of the waters off Lofoten, Senja and Vesterålen) from the oil industry.
Støre did make an impassioned plea for more full-time jobs and against temporary employment that both Labour and the trade union federations believe is undermining workers’ rights and job security.
Police estimated the crowd numbered at least 8,000 people when Støre also delivered the main speech at a the public square downtown known as Youngstorget. He spoke after the popular Oslo Janitsjar band had played and after fellow party leaders Audun Lysbakken of the Socialist Left party (SV) and Bjørnar Moxnes of the Reds had their nearly 10 minutes at the podium.
Then the parade began, from Youngstorget, through downtown and up Karl Johans Gate towards the Royal Palace. Flags flew and the sun shone brightly after a grey and chilly start to the day. The May 1st Labour Day holiday is full of tradition in Norway, with stores and businesses closed and events beginning early. Many union and Labour groups gather for special breakfasts, and graves of deceased workers’ are decorated, not least that of Einar Gerhardsen, the Labour Party boss who served as prime minister for many years after World War II and guided the creation of Norway’s social welfare state.
Many now feel it’s threatened, and Labour’s main message was aimed at unseating the current conservative government coalition and replacing it with a new Labour-Center coalition. Banners decorating the square where Støre spoke called for dumping the Conservative-Progress Party government, and halting the rise of economic differences among people living in Norway.
Asked what message he’d like to send to Prime Minister Erna Solberg of the Conservatives, Støre told Aftenposten: “I look forward to an exciting election campaign and today we’re mobilizing for it.”