There are several things that strike me about May 1, Labour Day. I am not going to focus on the close ties between Labour and the unions, and what they could have accomplished together. I am thinking first and foremost on the cases that are not mentioned. But fair’s fair. When I looked up some of the slogans being used in the union parades today I did actually find some that made sense. These are some of the cases they had decided to focus on in Bergen:
- Social dumping creates an A and B team– Norwegian wages in Norway!
- Raise women’s wages – Equal pay now!
- Children are not commodities – no tender (bids) in the Child Welfare Service !
- Reconstruct social housing
You’d think this would be important cases to the Labour Party too, but what about people without a job? Many of them are more or less a waste product of manufacturing. I am thinking especially about people that have fallen outside the job market, even though they have skills and an ability to work. They just don’t have these skills in a field that could generate an income. I am a fairly good writer for instance, but my social skills don’t allow for me to function as a journalist. I also have chronic pain that would make most of the alternative jobs hard. My health isn’t so wrecked that there isn’t anything I can do; the point is that I can’t make a living doing it. I have been working hard and tried my best to recover from set backs, but it hasn’t exactly given me any dignity or fair treatment. When I was organised in a union and fighting for my job, I asked my union rep for help, but no one wanted to fight for my rights.
Many people talked about disability at the end of last year because the government changed the law from January this year. Many disabled people are getting less now because disability benefits are now taxed as wages, which means that these people have to pay more tax. The general tax deduction on debt was also reduced from 55 til 27 percent. The Progressive Party was blamed for this, and although they deserve criticism most of the time, this wasn’t just them. Robert Eriksson, the Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, represents the Progressive Party in a 3 party coalition. It’s his job to execute this policy, but the truth is that the change that took place from January was based on a unanimous decision by Parliament in 2011, two years before Jens Stoltenberg’s (Labour) 8 years of majority ended.
I am also thinking about housing prices on a day like this. I grew up in a low-rise in Haugesund (built i 1972) and it was possible for a low income family to live there then. My mother was an unskilled factory worker and my father was disabled. We were never financially comfortable, and I’m sure my parents had a few worries about their expenses, but they always managed to pay the bills. Based on articles I’ve found on similar low-rise apartments in the 1970’s my parents probably payed between 25 000 and 30 000 NOK ($ 3300 – 4000) for this apartment in the early 70’s. I saw an add in the paper recently where a similar apartment in another low-rise (built in 1967) had an asking price of 1,3 million NOK ($ 172 500) + 3000 NOK ($ 400) a month to pay on a joint loan for all the apartments. This is probably still concidered to be among the most reasonable you can get in this small town, but you need a conciderable income to pay for an apartment like that. We are probably talking about at least $ 1200 a month just for these two loans. We had a nice income when I was working as a teacher, but I am pretty sure it wouldn’t have been possible to keep this apartment on one quite high income.
I was a little provoked when I read an interview in a newspaper recently. A former county secretary for the union criticised Kåre Willoch after this former Prime Minister had complained about how difficult it was for young families to get into the housing market. She has a point when she blames Willoch himself for creating this mess when he deregulated the housing cooperative (which a low-rise building is) in 1982. It is true that the Willoch government (1981-1986) started the enormous increase in the property prices. I still wonder if it was, and still is, possible to turn this development around through wise political decisions. Non-socialist governments haven’t been very strong in Norway after World War 2, and Willoch’s was no exception. Willoch had to resign after a motion of no confidence in 1986.
The Willoch government was a pure Conservative government the first two years (they then went into a coalition with two other parties). It was a weak government the first two years with only 53 of the 155 seats in Parliament, and it’s during this period the union rep says the damage occured. Even if the socialist side had disagreed they had plenty of opportunities for a rematch. After the election in 1989 the socialists had 80 of the 165 seats in Parliament. Gro Harlem Brundtland was an iron lady, much like the Conservative Margaret Thatcher in Britain, and there was never any doubt who was in charge, even though they didnt quite have majority. Jens Stoltenberg did have majority between 2005 and 2013 (87 and 86 seats in the two periods). He liked words socially just budgets and environment. He stated that Norway would develop a technology that could catch CO2, which could make even coals environmentally friendly. He called this our moonlanding because it was going to be just as important as NASA’s mission in 1969 had been. As he left office he terminated the pilot project because it was too expensive to have any commercial use. At the same time Canada succeeded in shorter time and for less money. Stoltenberg had basically spent 8 years trying to convince Norwegians that he was earth’s best hope, but of course he was all talk.
I’m not sure where the Labour Party is on social justice either. We’d be wrong to assume that everything is up to the government; that they have all the power. The other parties in Parliament have a responsibility too, but I believe the biggest party has to accept a higher responsibility, either it’s in position or opposition. Labour has been the biggest party for most of the time after WW2.
I wonder what the Labour Party has done to lessen the effect hard work has on our bodies and minds. Many people today work hard as long as their bodies will allow it, but there are a lot of people with broken bodies long before they reach retirement age. There are two types of disabled people. There are those that can’t work. They have no choice but to give up and we should let them without whining and accusing them of being lazy. Then there are those that have skills and a physical health for certain types of work, but not for work that would give them an income.
There are many services that don’t have a very high status, not in Labour or the unions either. If things go the way I hope I will be writing books, but I am not likely to make much money. That’s not something I can count on at least, but I still maintain that this work has a certain value. Nevertheless I have mostly encountered the hobby attitude. People seem to think that my interest in writing will be just as useful to people around me as the solitary hobby of collecting stamps would. Incindentally, that was a fascinating hobby I had as a child and adolescent, but I wouldn’t compare it to writing.
Most people think about their special interests, and with the probems I’ve had on the job market, my focus has been the definition of work. Some seem to think that people that don’t work, don’t do anything at all, but being inactive doesn’t suit me. The problem is what society defines as activity or work. It values everything that generate wealth and devalues everything else. I have tried that and I was pushed outside the job market.
Another classic thought on this day is the focus many have had on sparing May 1. The same people are adamant about keeping the religious holidays, which doesn’t make any sense as they pushed for a separation of state and church 3-4 years ago. We have a law prohibiting religious symbols in the public sphere, but I don’t know anyone that want to mess with Christmas and Easter. There is something multiple personality disorder like about these contradictions, but maybe that explains their politics as well.