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Our work, our victories

Our work, our victories

Dear comrades.

We are at an important juncture in time. The pandemic is receding and war is raging in Europe. Conflict, both ideological and personal, is all around, and our movement is certainly not excluded from it. At the same time, the labour movement is as important as ever before. A strong workers’ movement is needed to make sure that we move towards better quality of life, and not worse. Everywhere in the world, labour movements determine whether people’s lives change for the better or for the worse. In countries with weak labour movements, wages have stagnated or even decreased, inequality is on the rise and democracy is weak. In countries with strong labour movements, workers enjoy the benefits of increased productivity, technological change and other progress. These countries tend to be more equal and more prosperous. There is a lot to gain from maintaining a strong and united labour movement, and not to get lost in personal conflict. A weak labour movement invites more inequality and poorer quality of life. It is that simple.

We should respect our movement's past victories, reached both through collective wage agreements and through collaboration and dialogue with the government, while simultaneously marking the way forward. Housing has always been one of the cornerstones in our struggle for better quality of life. Throughout the years, there have been many temporary housing efforts that were reached through our collective bargaining and the tireless fight of our workers’ movement.  Unfortunately, we are still at a place where a massive, social housing effort is needed, because of the lack of apartments, and the fact that ordinary workers hardly stand a chance in the housing market. Residency in industrial housing is a fact, and people still pay far too much of their income for housing. Young people are unable to leave their parents’ homes, and the future is on hold. We have all known about this for a long time, and yet, the housing market remains the playground of capitalists, rather than providing shelter for people. At the mention of putting limits to rental prices, or limits to what individuals or companies can own many apartments for profit, there are immediately outcries from certain powers. Not to mention our demand that people do not pay more than one fourth of their income in housing - it is as if we were speaking against some natural law. There is much resistance to the notion that housing should be considered shelter for people, instead of accommodation for capital owners. Therefore, our role is to make the not-so-radical demand that all people have secure housing. It is about time we stop making temporary housing efforts. We should be able to plan ahead, the need for housing is not that hard to predict. The challenge is to meet that need, and do it on a social basis.

Our work, our victories

Today's headline is: “Our work, our victories”. Workers in our society, and all around the world, keep society running, by doing the jobs that are often invisible, but nonetheless necessary. Work should be respected, and workers everywhere should enjoy security.

The headline is also a reference to the victories won by workers through the years, through our strong labour movement.  The social security system, parental leave, sickness rights, the right to child sick days, continuous education, and occupational safety regulations, are a few of these victories. None of these victories came without a fight. They were fought alongside the never-ending struggle for fair wages for workers. That is the core in our movement, and one of the victories it has brought us is the fact that wages have increased in line with the productivity growth brought on by technological change. That is not the case in many countries of the world - and Icelandic employers lament the fact that they were not able, along with capital owners, to hoard all the wealth. Today we are right in the middle of a fight to make sure that the so-called fourth industrial revolution leads to better quality of life for everyone, not just some. That when new value is created in our societies, we all benefit - or to use the capitalists’ favourite metaphor - that when the cake becomes bigger, everyone gets a bigger piece.

This is done through the pay check, and through the tax and redistribution systems, which will become even more important when fewer hands are involved in producing products and services. The future goal must surely be that workers have a chance to work fewer hours, and that the profits from increased productivity are used to ensure minimum income for everyone, whether they work or not.

Collective wage agreements expire later this year. Now is the time when we look over the results of the Living Standards Agreements, and form our demands for the next agreements. The trade unions affiliated to ASÍ have now started to prepare these demands, which will then be discussed in bigger platforms. Step by step, the lines are being drawn, in large and small topics. The Living Standards Agreement were good and with them, we managed to raise the lowest wages. I believe we should continue on that path. In the Covid pandemic we saw more clearly than ever before just how much we rely on the lowest-paid workers in Icelandic society. Their work keeps society running, but they struggle to make ends meet.

Unfortunately, the government has yet to fulfil many of the promises made in the Living Standards Agreement Declaration, and that is a cause for concern, now that the agreements are about to expire. If the government's declaration has no real meaning, the government will hardly play a major role in the upcoming collective negotiations. We are then at a risk of losing sight of the big picture and focusing too much on wage increases that can be nullified in a second with poor economic policy, or a continuing housing crisis.

For the first time since 2019 we are able to gather on 1 May. Restrictions on gatherings have put their mark on the labour movement and on all social activity. For the first time in a long time, there are mass protests, where the people of Iceland rise up against yet another privatisation process characterised by nepotism. Step by step, our bank is being sold to create wealth for the few, at our collective cost. Against the wish of the general public, who see no reason to sell the bank at this moment. The arguments are familiar, that the state should not own a bank. But ask any ordinary Icelander, and they will tell you that their experience of privatised banks has been far from pleasant, so that argument is hollow.

ASÍ lined up with the public and protested the bank sale. Unfortunately, we have few allies in the political system, and we have no other choice than to speak up and say “no” to the old neoliberal methods.

Dear comrades.

Our movement is as important as ever but if we are to fulfil our role, we must make some peace within our movement. If we don't, we will not rise up to our responsibility. This movement is more important than any individuals that lead it at each time, and the movement must outlive all of us. It must remain a strong, effective tool to fight for better quality of life. May this 1 May be to make us closer to each other, and to end the disunity. We know that as individuals, we can do little in the fight for Icelandic society, but together we are strong. Our work, our victories - and together we will work towards new victories that benefit workers and society as a whole.


Happy workers day!

You can watch the address with English subtitles in the media player above.

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