Date: Tue, 19 May 98 12:14:07 CDT
From: (Rich Winkel)
Subject: GL: Denmark: ‘We can run the country without employers’
Organization: PACH
Article: 35247
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <>

‘We can run the country without employers’

By Norm Dixon, 19 May 1998

The Danish parliament voted on May 7 to impose a settlement to bring the country's private sector general strike, which began on April 27, to an end. Social Democrat prime minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen said the strike for a shorter working week in the form of an extra week's paid holiday had become irresponsible.

The strike, which involves more than 500,000 members of the Danish Federation of Trade Unions (LO)—about 10% of Denmark's population—began when rank and file union members unexpectedly voted to reject a national contract negotiated between the LO and the employers' peak body.

The contract offered construction workers only an extra one and a half days off, at below the average hourly rate, while metalworkers were offered a day off on Christmas eve, when many workers already have been granted a day off.

The contract was defeated after members of Denmark's biggest unions—the metalworkers' union and unskilled workers' union—voted solidly against, overriding the votes of less militant members.

At a national meeting of shop stewards on April 29 in Odense, more than 1200 delegates voted to establish national and local coordination committees to run the strike. While the LO leadership has vowed to accept the decision of the rank and file and not settle for anything less than an extra week's holiday, many militants fear they will do otherwise in closed-door talks with the employers.

The strike has widespread support, despite provocative moves by the bosses to undermine solidarity from non-striking workers. On May 5, employers locked out 45,000 supermarket workers and 15,000 electricians in a crude attempt turn people against the strike by heightening inconvenience. The unions responded by promising to ensure that one supermarket chain is exempt from strike action.

Denmark's mass media is full of stories about food shortages, lack of medicines and people dying. Strikers have replied that they will provide food and medicines for anyone in need. The unions have contacted the national blind people's organisation to offer assistance. y Strikers' sentiments about running the country without the bosses is not idle rhetoric. Strike committees control the distribution of petrol. To get petrol, an authorisation signed by the transport and general workers' union is required. Authorisation is granted only in emergencies and for essential services such as ambulances. Without authorisation, not even the police can get petrol.

Despite the bosses' propaganda and the inconvenience caused, an opinion poll published on May 1 showed more than 50% of the population in support of the strike.

The strike is hitting Danish big businesses hard. It is estimated they are losing 4 billion kroner a week, plus Kr3 billion in lost exports. Car companies SAAB and Volvo in Sweden, and BMW in Germany, have either closed or are seeking alternative sources for car parts made in Denmark.

Parts of the public sector stopped work on health and safety grounds as privatised cleaning services joined the strike. Hospitals are only treating emergency cases. y The fishing industry has halted because fish processing workers are on strike, and most agricultural exports are stranded. Copenhagen's international airport is open only for small aircraft. Fuel shortages have kept tens of thousands of non-striking workers at home. Buses in Odense have stopped because the depots are out of diesel.

Nyrup Rasmussen's settlement, passed 95-12 by parliament, gives workers two additional days off, including Christmas eve. Workers with children under 14 get an additional three days off each year.

Unions criticised the imposed settlement which makes the strike and lock-outs illegal as of midnight May 7. As May 8 is a public holiday, the government's back-to-work order will come into effect for most workers on May 11.

To finance the extra holidays, the government has reduced the employers' contributions to the workers' pension funds, while workers pay more. The government will also cancel a special sick leave levy under which employers pay Kr325 per employee to the state.

On May Day, 350,000 workers participated in a rally in Copenhagen. Public sector unions have issued posters in solidarity with the strike and supporting the demands for the three sixes: six weeks of paid holidays a year, a six-hour working day for shift workers and a 6% wage increase. Finland's trade unions vowed to black ban any job transferred from Denmark.