IWW - Nevidni delavci sveta

Predstavitev delovanja Sindikata gradbenih delavcev iz Osla

IWW (Nevidni delavci sveta) organiziramo delavnice o različnih načinih organiziranja migrantskih delavcev. Prva bo v soboto, 7. marca, v Socialnem centru Rog. Jonas Bals iz Norveške bo predstavil delovanje Sindikata gradbenih delavcev iz Osla na Norveškem (Oslo Bygningsarbeiderforening).

Program delavnice: 14.00-17.00 predstavitev delovanja sinidikata gradbenih delavcev iz Osla; 18.00-21.00 delavnica o možnih metodah organiziranja.

Predstavitev delovanja Sindikata gradbenih delavcev iz Osla

With the expansion of the European Union 1st of May 2004, the Norwegian labour market opened up for workers from many new countries, of which the most important was the Baltic states and Poland. Today, between 100 000 and 200 000 workers from East- and Central Europe are working in Norway, a country with a population at 4, 7 million people.

In the first period following the expansion, we saw many examples of these newly arrived workers being exploited very badly. The threat of "social dumping" did not only concern wages, but was also a question of decent living conditions, a safe work environment, and other basic rights. Often, all of these were denied to the workers from abroad. Many of them were more vulnerable as a result both of their inexperience and lack of language skills and general knowledge about the country to which they had arrived, and a general scepticism towards the labour movement and the unions. Many suspected the unions of being protectionists and hostile towards foreigners, and many had a bad experience of socialist labour movements from their own countries’ past as state socialist countries.

My own union, Oslo Building Workers Union, made an important decision in 2004: We stated clearly that we were not a union for Norwegian workers, but for workers working in Norway. Since then, we have connected ourselves to people who speak Polish, Russian, Lithuanian, Latvian, Bosnian-Croatan-Serb, Romanian-Moldavian, German, Bulgarian and Slovakian. This has been crucial, as the need to have someone speaking your mother tongue is important in an alien society.

Another important thing we did, was to create political pressure to generalise the most important parts of our wage agreements, which regulates a statutory minimum wage (which is quite high), overtime compensation, payment for work clothes, travel and food expences. Historically, these standards have been reserved to union members, and many were sceptical towards generalising them (and some still are, in other sectors than the construction unions). Wouldn’t it take away the incentive to organise, if everybody got it for free? However, there was a majority for generalising them: We saw that our newly arrived co-workers needed a platform to stand on, and we had that platform. Many of us also believed that it would be possible to convince our foreign co-workers that this platform was built by the unions, and that they should help strengthening that platform by joining the unions. But the resistance from the employers are growing, and we now face several cases in court o ver our right to generalise the agreements, including maybe in the European Court of Justice in Starsbourg.

Since we generalised our agreement in 2006, we have spent a huge amount of energy on informing our foreign colleagues about their rights as workers in Norway. And they have responded duly: Thousands have organised in unions, and every year, we solve hundreds of hundreds of smaller and bigger conflicts with the bosses. Today, more than a third of the membership in Oslo Bygningsarbeiderforening are Polish (750 persons), and on top of that, we have many members from Germany and Lithuania especially, and from all over the world generally. Approximately 50% of our members are now born in other countries than Norway.

We have won many small victories in this process, and taken out many millions of Norwegian kroners in unpaid salaries and holiday money from Norwegian employers. We have also learned that the problems of one group of migrant workers are different from others. For example, workers coming from countries outside the EU, are tied to their employers by their work permit. If they change employer, they are sent out of the country. This has been our experience with Bosnian workers, for example. Problems like this has been highlighted by the crisis: At the moment, there are 10 000 registered unemployed building workers in Norway, and in such a situation, more people are afraid of stirring up problems with their employers. It is this culture of fear and competition between the workers that must be fought; organizing in unions is the most efficient way to do it. This creates self confidence, in one self and in each other.

But we are also fighting battles on a more political level. For almost a year now, we have been figthing for a new law, that could be an important tool in the struggle for getting out the money of cheating bosses: A liability for wages, overtime and holiday money. That means that if a sub-contractor runs away without paying their workers - a common experience for many foreign workers - the worker can put the demand forward to the main contractor or the company who has ordered the building.

We have seen signs that workers who have been to Norway and other western European countries to work, return to their home countries with positive experiences of the labour movement, and with other ideas about how things can work. The unions in countries like Norway are far from perfect, but many of them work more or less like a union should do: Democratically, run by the members themselves, and based on principles of solidarity and empowering ordinary members.

For us, when approaching workers especially from the old Soviet bloc, we stress those aspects very much: We never act on behalf of our members, they make the decisions! We are not ’Soviet style’ - bureaucratic, ineffective, non-democratic. By stressing this to foreign colleagues, we also in a way stress it towards ourselves. In that way, maybe the workers arriving from other countries can help strengthen the good tendencies in our own union movement, and remind us of the dangers of centralism, forced membership, close ties with the state or with certain political parties.

This is a model which is today in a deep crisis. A precondition for this model was social peace, which again was a result of an extremely strong working class in the decades following the second world war. Today, with the liberation and strengthening of capital, this social contract is no longer needed by capital, and the class struggle gets more and more visible and tangible again. Luckily, there are new tendencies in the labour movement who recognises this fact. These tendencies speak for a union by and for the workers, which is independent from political parties, but not politically neutral. They speak of leadership, not control, and activisation, not passivisation. They show a will to fight if necessary, and are clear about the fact that freedoms are not given, but taken - and defended, time and time again. And last, but not least, they recognise the fact that unions are not only defensive tools against precarisation and deregulation, but also can be the most imp ortant, base-democratic tool in creating a society organised for meeting working people’s needs, instead of creating profit for the few.

About the union:

Oslo Bygningsarbeiderforening has approximately 2300 members, all of them building workers working in the area around the Norwegian capital, Oslo. The union is federated to Fellesforbundet, which has 160 000 members in Norway. Fellesforbundet is again federated to the LO, which is comprised by 830 000 members.

LO and Fellesforbundet makes nation-wide wage settlements, which is supposed to abolish the competition between workers on the labour market, thus weakening one of the strongest powers the employers have over the workers. This principle of workers’ solidarity was first accomplished on a national scale, binding employers in different regions of Norway to the same kind of agreements. Today, it is obvious that the solidarity principle must be fought for internationally, if we want to avoid a weakening of the power bulit up by the workers’ movement in the 20th century.