The dockers are tough. They continue their fight in Norway’s longest industrial conflict for 70 years and will soon have been in dispute for two years. However, this autumn has thrown up some positives.
For several weeks now it has been clear that the new majority in the council in Tromsø supports the dockers’ right to work in the city’s port. An agreement between the Labour Party, the Socialist Left Party and the Red Party clearly states that international law must be respected and should apply in Tromsø: “the parties in this alliance will ensure that ILO 137, the dockers’ convention, is adhered to”. A great boost for the dockers and a clear message to port employers, not least to the Harbour Master and the police in the city.
The photo above is from one of the 19 dockers’ marches that took place in Oslo throughout the autumn.
Now agreements between the four parties in Oslo have also been published and the message here is equally clear. The newly elected council leader in Olso, Raymond Johansen, has categorically stated that ILO 137 will be followed in the port of Oslo. Even more apparent is the message contained in the agreement between Red and the three parties within the council, the Labour party, the Green party and the Socialist Left party: “These parties are in agreement that the port of Oslo shall follow ILO Convention 137. These parties will not see the port of Oslo become a corporation.”
In Oslo, it is vital that the current members of the port authority are replaced with those who will work in line with the new political majority in Oslo. The current director, Bernt Stilluf Karlsen, who has for many years been working to get rid of the dockers, must be removed. We are in total agreement with the Vice Chair of the Oslo dockers’ union, Tommy Torgersen, who is demanding a new director in the port of Oslo.
What is happening in Tromsø and Oslo is a positive sign for dockers across Norway and perhaps will inspire work in other cities to change port policy in the same way.
The fact that Fellesforbundet, Norway’s largest general union in the private sector, donated 500,000 kroner to the dockers’ fight at their annual conference in October is another incredibly positive sign. Combined with the court judgement in August that confirmed that ILO Convention 137 still applies to the loading and unloading of ships in Norwegian ports, gives hope that this fight will bear fruit. Not forgetting either the unanimous motion passed by representatives at the Norwegian Transport Workers Federation that outlined a strategy for taking the struggle in Norwegian ports to the next level.
All of this points to a positive autumn for the dockers. The odds have swung in the dockers’ favour, strengthening belief that this fight can be won. But there is still a long way to go before the NHO (Norwegian Employers’ Association) sees sense and signs the necessary agreements. Perhaps the most difficult nut to crack is in Mosjøen, where the 17 dockers there have been illegally locked out of their workplace since May last year.
The conflicts in Norwegian ports are linked and there is little chance of solving them individually. If this does happen, it could lead very quickly to some dockers losing out and being forced to join the ranks of the unemployed. That is not acceptable.
The NHO is a tough adversary. They are the ones masterminding a strategy to destroy the dockers. This is why the NHO must change direction and pull back from their offensive to rid themselves of the dockers. I haven’t forgotten Holship in Drammen (where not even one box was unloaded during the boycott), who are members of the Bedriftsforbundet (another employers’ organisation, not NHO). Neither have I forgotten the Turkish company, Yilport, who are an ‘unorganised’ business (meaning that they are not a member of the national employer’s association and, therefore, not part of the national bargaining structures), who took over the container terminal in Oslo on 1st February this year. We also need to find a solution for the continuing fights in these port companies.
But…it is the NHO who is the ideological driving force behind the move to get rid of the dockers and their collective bargaining agreements. It is the NHO who is leading the way with social dumping and union busting.
All of this means that the dockers’ fight rumbles on. In March/April next year, the collective bargaining negotiations begin. All the agreements are to play for. It is up to the NHO to provide a solution before then or gamble on the battles lines being drawn even deeper during next year’s negotiations.
SOLIDARITY WITH THE DOCKERS!
English translation: Jessica Fenn Samuelsen