Norway’s largest trade union confederation LO has never seen so many members leave the organization because of disagreement over a single politial issue. In this case it’s LO’s recent controversial majority vote to boycott Israel that’s prompted more than 100 people to dump their membership in LO unions.
News bureau ANB reported this week that the single largest exodus came from Industri Energi, which represents many offshore oil workers and lost 44 members. The musicians’ union Musikernes Fellesorganisasjon lost 18 while EL og IT Forbundet lost 15.
There were also membership defections from the trade union federations Norsk Arbeidsmandsforbund, Handel og Kontor, Postkom, Fellesforbundet, Norsk Nærings- ogNytelsesarbeiderforbund and Norsk Fengsels- og Friomsorgsforbund. All cited the reason for dropping their union membership as being the LO confederation’s vote to support an “economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel,” in an effort to finally get Israel to end its “occupation of Palestinian land … since dialogue and resolutions have had little effect.”
LO’s own leadership opposed the boycott measure at the confederation’s congress in Oslo earlier this month but now is charged with defending it. The boycott has also prompted criticism from Israel itself and others including Norwegian political parties on both the left and the right. Even though LO is closely alligned with the Labour Party, for example, it’s highly unlikely that Labour will propose or back any boycott, especially if it wins government power in September.
The membership defections are “of course unfortunate, but we must accept them,” wrote LO leader Hans-Christian Gabrielsen, who was elected to his post at the congress, in an email to FriFagbevegelse, LO’s online news portal. Gabrielsen was among those voting against the boycott proposal, but lost to the majority in LO.
The Israeli boycott call has led to more membership withdrawals than LO’s boycott of South Africa did when the organization fought apartheid. “I can’t remember anything like this from more recent decades,” Trond Erik Thorvaldsen of Norsk Arbeidsmandsforbund told ANB. His federation was in favour of boycotting items produced in the occupied West Bank but not a full boycott of the country.
Arild Theimann of Industri Energi told ANB that “we always see a rise in membership withdrawals after an LO congress,” often tied to which parties LO has decided to support in election years. “But there’s never been a reaction like this a single issue,” Theimann said.