May Day dissolved into political attacks

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Leaden skies and chilly temperatures put a damper on the May 1st Labour Day festivities in Oslo and elsewhere around southern Norway. An unusual personal attack also rained down on the leader of the Labour Party, as the right-wing Progress Party resorted to particularly tough tactics in trying to woo working class voters.

Hans-Christian Gabrielsen gave his first May Day address as LO leader to the crowds that turned out in Oslo despite bad weather. PHOTO: LO/Trygve Indrelid

“He (Labour leader Jonas Gahr Støre)  was born with a silver spoon in his mouth,” thundered one of the Progress Party’s most outspoken politicians, Sylvi Listhaug, from her podium in Drammen. “He has never had an ordinary job and was educated among the elite in France. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with higher education, but who reflects the people? That’s the Progress Party. We are the party for the most people. We are the party for working folks.”

It was more tough talk from the former justice minister who nearly brought down the conservative government coalition in which she served, because of another earlier attack on the Labour Party that led to her forced resignation and an apology. The consequences of her harsh words then didn’t stop her from hurling more charges at Labour, as she thundered that she would continue to do all she could “to make sure Jonas Gahr Støre never becomes prime minister.”

Støre seemed to brush off Listhaug’s latest assault with a smile, refusing to let her provoke him. “I’m a politician, my grandfather created an industry (through the oven producer known as Jotul), that’s my background,” Støre told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) after being informed of Listhaug’s attack. “We have a deputy leader whose father worked in a factory. The Labour Party is diverse and made up of folks who work and live off their honest jobs. We’re proud of that.”

Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre speaking in Elverum at another May Day event on Tuesday. PHOTO: Arbeiderpartiet

The party had sent Støre to the eastern, largely agricultural county of Hedmark on May Day, to help drum up more support from farmers and the “ordinary working folks” the rival Progress Party is trying to lure away. Støre started his day by speaking to celebrants in Trysil before moving on to march in the local workers’ parades in Elverum and Hamar and speak some more, also in Stange.

His party has been in crisis for months, following last autumn’s election loss, poor public opinion poll results and a sexual harassment scandal involving former deputy leader Trond Giske. He also spoke, though, to his home region’s party faithful in Verdal, as he keeps trying to mount a comeback. Not everyone appreciated his presence or his words on May Day, though, with some members of the audience demonstratively turning their backs on him while he spoke. All is clearly not forgiven yet.

Labour’s surviving deputy leader, Hadia Tajik, was dispatched to Harstad and Kvæfjord in Northern Norway after party faithful in her home region of Rogaland weren’t keen on listening to her either. That’s because of local opposition to their own party’s support for Norway’s controversial decision to join the Europen Union’s new energy union. Many industrial communities all over the country think that will ultimately lead to a lack of local control over Norway’s hydro-electric resources, send electricity rates soaring and threaten their businesses.

Labour’s city government leader in Oslo, Raymond Johansen, was left to address the crowds in the capital, which turned out in relatively large numbers despite the chilly rain that had fallen all morning. The new leader of Norway’s largest trade union confederaton, LO, was also on hand at Oslo’a large public square known as Youngstorget, to drum up support for the labour movement in the midst of several ongoing union negotiations.

“We need to speak to folks’ hearts, then I think support will rise,” LO leader Hans-Christian Gabrielsen told newspaper Dagsavisen before taking the podium himself. Even though he admitted that last autum’s election loss was “a real downturn,” he doesn’t agree that social democracy is in crisis. He thinks the Labour Party will rise from its current low of just 24 percent of the vote at present.

He stressed the need to preserve pension programs and listen to voters’ concerns, and he noted how Støre was in fact highly popular just a year ago, when polls indicated he’d win the election. Gabrielsen is confident that can happen again, when the current’ government’s second term in office ends in 2021.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund