Subscribe to the latest news from the Nordic Labour Journal by e-mail. The newsletter is issued 9 times a year. Subscription is free of charge.

You are here: Home i News i News 2019 i What are the critical issues for Nordic trade unions?
What are the critical issues for Nordic trade unions?

What are the critical issues for Nordic trade unions?

| Text and photo: Björn Lindahl

What goes on inside the head of a trade union leader? At the NFS congress in Malmö they were challenged to spend one minute to describe what they see as the greatest challenge going forward. Here are some of the answers:

Eva Nordmark, TCO, Sweden:

“I would like to highlight a basic requirement for managing the challenges we are facing. And this is about ourselves: the trade union movement’s ability to grow, to make sure we stay relevant in a new era, when we have major challenges to solve. We have a great responsibility for making sure we grow and become strong.”

Erik Kollerud, YS, Norway:

“I have also been thinking about what Eva says. Even more to the point: trade union membership numbers. It is one thing to say we must do something about the big questions, but in order to manage that we need power, and we get that through membership numbers. It is a challenge that union membership has fallen by 35% in the past 20 to 25 years in the OECD.”

Drífa Snædal, ASÍ (LO), Iceland:

“Iceland’s Prime Minister pointed out that the climate should not be debated on an individual level, but on a society level. This is a way of thinking we should apply to other areas too. To solve the challenges we are facing, we need to go back to our ideology and stick to it. We are stronger together, and not through the market… how do you say it? …capitalism – to put it simply!” 

Lars Quistgaard, the Danish Confederation of Professional Associations (Akademikerne), Denmark:

“The generation coming after us will be the first ever to not feel the benefits of welfare increases, which the older generation has enjoyed. It is alarming that the EU might not be able to handle that challenge for young people. The way they handled the crisis last time around did definitively not benefit the young. In Southern Europe, we have generations who in the years that followed lost out in the labour market. We must address the younger generation too, and we must represent them.” 

Nordic trade unionists 1

Göran Arrius, Sonja Ýr Þorbergsdóttir. Bente Sorgenfrey, Josef Therkildsen, SIK, Grönland and Peggy  Hessen Følsvik.

Peggy Hessen Følsvik, LO Norway:

“I think the greatest issue is growing inequalities and insufficient gender equality. This is what creates more populism and the trends we see in Europe today. So the challenge is how the trade union movement handles this. How should trade unions influence this, both on a union level but also through political influence? With the ever-accelerating change, with digitalisation, automation, new forms of employment, trade wars and Brexit. If we go down a route ending in greater inequality, I think we are heading towards difficult times.”

Bente Sorgenfrey, FH, Denmark:

“If we put on our trade union glasses, this is about agreeing on some basic wage conditions for European workers. But also to allow them to benefit from the progressive policies that have resulted in growth and welfare in the Nordics. That is why we must show that we are pioneering countries. Our colleagues in the south and east and even in the west and the north must be given pay rises again. Because there have been major setbacks. We must also make sure the models we enjoy in the Nordic region remain in place.”

Sonja Ýr Þorbergsdóttir, The Federation of State and Municipal Employees BSRB, Iceland:

“It is a challenge in itself just to talk about one challenge. I have one that encompasses everything, which I think we must talk about. And that is democracy and populism. I believe we must fight populism in a positive way, and talk about hope and a belief in the future.”

Göran Arrius, the Swedish Confederation of Professional Associations Saco, Sweden:

“I want to highlight academic freedom and press freedom, which I feel is under a lot of threat in countries that are really not that far away from us. We hear about this as fake news, that people do not trust research results, that what you read on Twitter is as true as what comes out of a university. This represents a great danger, and it is being used by the populists in order to create alternative facts. I think this is really dangerous to us.” 

Nordic trade unionists 2

Sonja Jógvannsdóttir, Karl- Petter Thorwaldsson, Antti Palola, Ragnhhild Lied and Þorunn Sveinbjarnardóttir, the Icelandic Confederation of University Graduates BHM, Iceland.

 Ragnhild Lied, the Confederation of Unions for Professionals Unio, Norway:

“I think the most important thing for Europe is to regain trust in democracy. We can do this through good education and skills development for the duration of people’s working lives, high trade union membership numbers which will strengthen the unions’ power, influence and autonomy in the workplace and not least through real gender equality.”

Antti Palola, the Finnish Confederation of Professionals STTK, Finland:

“I think the greatest issue is climate change, which is happening in parallel with changing labour markets because of the incredibly rapid technological development. Climate change also means we need to secure better knowledge and competencies. For trade unions, it is especially important to help people who are already in the labour market and who need new knowledge which will allow them to expand their knowledge and face these major changes.”

Karl-Petter Thorwaldsson, LO Sweden:

“When we talk about our Nordic societies, you might get the impression we are on the precipice of a catastrophe. We are not! We have high employment levels. We are the first region in the world that will manage the climate challenge. We have the best integration of people coming here, we have fairly open economies. There are two issues we have to succeed at: firstly, gender equality, because this is a good way of fighting populism and xenophobia. Secondly, we are prone to look at things with pessimistic eyes. We should meet people on their own level, but when everyone is a pessimist we all turn into pessimists. We enter into a downward spiral. So, I encourage everyone: we are the best in the world – be a bit more bloody optimistic!”

Sonja Jógvannsdóttir, SAMTAK, Faroe Islands:

“We have seen great growth in the Faroes in the past decade. I think our GDP has grown by 30%. Unemployment stands at around 1%. But at the same time, we are seeing a large increase in poverty. The majority of the growth has benefited the richest 5% and we are seeing a tendency of ‘the working poor’. How do you crack that nut? How do you solve the problem of people going to work every day who still can’t make ends meet? We cannot only talk about a sustainable economy, we must also talk about social sustainability!” 

Nordic trade union leaders

Jarkko Eloranta, SAK (LO) Finland, Lars Quistgaard, Drífa Snædal, Erik Kollerud and Eva Nordmark.


Receive Nordic Labour Journal's newsletter nine times a year. It's free.

This is themeComment