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Editorial: The spirit of our times and future challenges

| Berit Kvam

The Nordic welfare state is a finely tuned system. Cooperation between the social partners and authorities is central to its development. When Nordic trade unions loose members this power balance is endangered. That is an issue well worth focusing on. According to experts and politicians Nordic Labour Journal has spoken to, there is a need for action.

 “It is important that trade unions work on to keep their good reputation to hold on to a large number of members. If not the Nordic model may come under pressure,” says Norway’s Minister for Cooperation Rigmor Aasrud.

She encourages unions to listen to their members.

“Unions must get closer to their members and deliver a better service for less money,” recommends Danish labour market researchers. That is an idea which is starting to gain traction in Sweden.

The reduction in union membership in the Nordic countries is not dramatic, but we still need to ask: how do unions capture the spirit of the times?

Salary gaps are increasing in the Nordic region. Is there a connection between increased salary gaps and union legitimacy? Can the combination of increasing gaps and poor union membership figures lead to poor discipline? Trade unions and the new spirit of our times is this month’s theme.

Iceland is still in the world’s spotlight. This time it is about ‘Iceland’s road to recovery’. Welfare first, said the Icelanders after greedy businesspeople and bankers had taken their country to the brink of bankruptcy. Now Iceland is globally praised for the way the country managed the crisis. Would results be equally good if Iceland had not based its efforts on the Nordic welfare state?

In the portrait we meet Finland’s Minister of Labour. After more than 20 years as president of the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions he now holds a political position. What happens then? He is fully focused on improving the competence among Finland’s workers and improving the country’s working life so that Finland can be better prepared to meet tomorrow’s challenges.

The European crisis also affects the Nordic region, and the welfare state is under pressure. The Nordic countries must face the challenges together and continue to develop their cooperation, according to the coming Norwegian presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers - which also invites the social partners to join the team.

Perhaps the trade unions too face a challenge they can take on together; to take the spirit of our times seriously when facing future challenges.


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