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Why is SA's strike action a serious matter for you?

For the Labor Movement, the last few days have been exciting, stressful, emotional, but also opened the eyes of to the conditions the Icelandic labor market is in.

Who are the Labor Movement?

Please note that the "Labor Movement" is you.

Yes, YOU.

The labor movement consists of confederations and labor unions in the country. Members of the confederattions (e.g. ASÍ, BSRB, BHM) are labor unions, and members of the labor unions are employees who pay union dues.

So if you pay union dues, no matter to what labor union, you are a part of the Labor Movement.

What is the strength of the Labor Movement?

The strength of the Labor Movement does not lie in the leadership of the movement. Although Ragnar Þór Ingólfsson, chairman of VR, has been at the forefront of the fight for workers' rights in the last few days, and Vilhjálmur Birgisson, chairman of the Akranes‘ Trade Union, has been an advocate and fought hard in the fight against unfair dismissals of general employees, these are just people who in reality have no power.

The strength of the Labor movement lies entirely with you.

Yes, YOU.

The Labor Movement is, after all, a MASS movement. The strength of the Labor Movement is not in individuals with titles, but in the enormous amount of individuals who stand behind and support the individual behind the titles.

The strength of the Labor Movement is in the GROUP.

Isn‘t the Labor Movement a normal part of the job market?

No, the Labor Movement is not a normal part of the job market. It is easy to look at the United States and see the lack of a labor movement there, along with the effective measures taken by the owners and managers of companies in the USA against the establishment of any kind of a labor movement, to see the conditions we could be living in. Situations where maternity leave is considered a luxury, there is no notice period (do an internet search for "at will employment"), maximum working hours isn‘t a fixed measure, and a simple trip to a toilet is not a given for general staff.

If we simplify the history of the Labor Movement in Iceland, it began when workers got angry and tired of improper working conditions and got together and founded organizations that fought for workers' rights.

The idea was simple. If one person comes forward and says "the situation is not right", that person is dealt with by the employer and simply fired. Other employees learn to keep their heads down, otherwise they‘ll lose their source of income.

But if the staff banded together, and one person stepped forward with the power of the group behind them and presented their demands? This creates political pressure, where if the wishes of the Group were not listened to, the group was united in showing necessary actions to force positive changes.

This is the power of the Labor Movement and the purpose of bargaining committees in collective agreements - To promote and improve the conditions and rights of the whole Group, because without better wages the Group is dissatisfied and takes action to force changes (we know it as a "strike").

The Labor Movement stands with the Group, and without the Group behind it, the Labor Movement loses its influence.

Wait, isn't it enough to have leaders in the Labor Movement who speak on behalf of their members?

No. Because if the employees themselves, the Group, do not echo what the leaders of the Labor Movement are saying, then their message loses its power.

Without the Group, the Labor Movement is nothing.

And this, unfortunately, is what is happening in the Icelandic labor market.

We see certain leaders in the Labor Movement fighting hard for the rights and conditions of their members, while the group says that "the union will take care of this". We see other leaders sitting quietly by, afraid to join the fight as they know their voice has little or no backup. We see a Labor Movement that was happy to fight and built a strong job market where people want to participate knowing that the labor market supports employees, in that a few individuals are at the forefront of the fight with no visible support there as "the union takes care of this".

The fact of the matter is; the fight is not over, and the last few days have shown it so well why it is still important that we fire up the fighting spirit of the entire Labor Movement.

What happened? Wasn‘t an agreement signed the other day?

Yes, an agreement was signed the other day, but not until the opinion of employers towards employees was strongly expressed.

We, the employees who keep employers’ business up, create profits for owners and shareholders, manage equipment, tools, business relationships and fight to keep a positive opinion from third parties of our employer, we are not considered a valuable part of the employer but an unnecessary cost.

We are not individuals with bills, rent payments or mortgages, let alone family people with children who depend on us.

We are statistics, payroll- and operating expenses.

And not only are we being used as pawns to enforce employers' demands, but we are being made to pay for employers' actions against us.

What are you talking about?


When it comes to collective bargaining, one of the tools of the Labor Movement is to call for a strike. The relevant union asks its members for permission to call a strike if it is deemed necessary through a vote, and if it is approved, all members affected by the strike must stop working. Meanwhile, those individuals are without wages, and therefore unions have some kind of strike fund to pay wages to these individuals so that those parties can make ends meet despite the loss of wages from their employer.

These strike funds are of different sizes, the bigger the union is, the bigger the funds are, and the bigger the funds are, the better the respective union stands in wage negotiations. Negotiations regarding collective agreements therefore usually start with the largest unions in the country, as they are better able to drive positive changes in the labor market than smaller unions with little or no strike funds.

However, a lockout is a tool used by employers in collective bargaining.

A lockout is just like a strike, except that employers forbid employees from doing their jobs and the employees are unpaid in the meantime. A lockout is not carried out in consultation with employees nor unions, but as with a strike, the employees cannot choose not to participate in a lockout.

But isn‘t this a normal tool? It can‘t be illegal?

No, a lockout is not illegal at all. There is even a clause in the Icelandic labor laws that allows employers to use lockout action.

But a lockout also means that employees are without pay during the lockout. Which is something that unions have a hard time facing, and therefore the union's strike fund is used to help make ends meet for union members.

So is this illegal?


But it is completely unethical to try to force a union to submit to the demands of the employers, by setting up a lockdown that forces 18-20,000 people to be without wages unless the union empties it‘s strike funds.

For clarification; there are 175-180 thousand workers in trade unions currently with free collective agreements. 20 thousand people are therefore 11% of all individuals who have free contracts regardless of union.

SA demanded that one union watch the majority of its members go without pay, or empty their strike funds and therefore be worse off in further fighting for the conditions and rights of their members.

But does this kind of lockout not affect employers as well?

Yes, and a huge negative impact in the short term. But not in the long run.

The lockout was supposed to cover all office workers of employers. Office staff at VR work in human resources, finance, marketing, IT… you name it. These are the people who keep the business running day to day.

And who will pick up the slack when they come back to work?

Yes, the staff who were on lockout. They would have to take on all the responsibilities and all the extra tasks that accumulated and have to work quickly and under a lot of pressure to get employers back to normal.

The employees, who were not only denied wages by their employers, would also be mentally paying for the lockout with further work load and stress.

So the lockout would both drain VR's strike fund, as well as drain all the fighting spirit of employees.

The lockout the SA arranged was therefore not just an outburst against the Labor Movement as a whole, but against all individuals who are employed in the labor market when it comes to demanding better rights and conditions.

What can I do?

We see more and more that employees are not the most important thing for an employer. We are an operating cost that needs to be reduced as much as possible, our salary preferences are being violated, wage theft is common, the necessary equipment and tools for work are withheld or improper due to cost-saving measures, and working conditions are often generally very bad.

We are not seen as individuals, we are pawns played out at their convenience to drive additional profits for business owners and shareholders.

This dehumanization of employees must stop. And it stops with You. It stops with us. It stops with the Group.

We need to come together again as a Group and drive new thinking into our employers. We need to teach our employers that we are a Group that stands together to be valued as individuals. We are a Group that insists that our work contribution must be seen from the perspective of the individual, and not from statistics or operational figures. We are a Group that wants our work to be valued according to our merits as individuals, and not according to the operating profit of the whole. We are a Group that wants a labor market that allows us to thrive and develop with our employer. because we as individuals have ambitions for our work.

You and I.
We are this Group.
A Group of individuals who matter as such.

Article first appeared on Vísir 15.03.2024 [link].