Massive strike shakes Denmark


ALTHOUGH YOU WOULD hardly know it from the media, the end of April and the start of May saw a massive strike wave in Denmark. Almost half a million workers went on strike, including almost all industrial workers and most workers in transport and building. It was so powerful that the police and other emergency services had to ask the unions whenever they needed petrol.

It was caused by resentment that in negotiations the employers were insisting that any new agreement should not increase their costs, despite a booming economy and rising profits. This will sound familiar to Irish workers. The strike began when union members rejected the national deal worked out between their leaders and the employers.

The core demands of the strike were for a 35 hour week and for a week's extra holiday (increasing the minimum to six weeks).

By the third day of the strike the stock exchange had fallen by £3.5 billion and foreign companies were threatening to pull out if it went beyond ten days. This had both the government and union leadership panicking. The union leadership started to water down the demands (to two or three extra days holiday) and failed to organise other workers to join the strike. Despite this the strike continued to grow, with the Copenhagen bus workers going out.

As is familiar to us in Ireland the union leaders did little to build the strike (they even advised the apprentices in the building sector not to join in the movement). However Danish workers had one advantage over Irish ones, a tradition and structures by which shop stewards could meet on a regional and national basis to run the strike.

By Day 4 a meeting of 1,200 shop stewards agreed to set up national and local co-ordinating committees to organise the running of strike. This meeting - in response to a threatened lock out by shop owners - also resolved to "make sure that food and medicines are delivered where and when needed". One shop steward was quoted as saying "They cannot run the country without the workers, but we can run the country without the employers".

May Day, which fell in the middle of the strike wave, saw 350,000 to 500,000 workers take to the streets of Copenhagen alone. However, at the same time, the union leadership used the opportunity to say "we cannot get the whole of the extra week holidays now" and they did not even mention the other demands.

By day 9 the demonstrations were growing and union permission was needed for a wide range of things, from obtaining petrol to slaughtering animals. However the government made it clear that it would legally impose a settlement on both sides. On day 11 a regional shop stewards meeting was discussing how to react. But the union leadership and much of the 'left' (in particular the Communist Party) were arguing that the government's settlement was the best that could be won.

The government did impose a deal which meant a gain of 2-3 days extra holidays a year. Once this was imposed it became illegal for the unions to give strike pay. This gave the leadership the excuse they needed to call off the strike. However this movement should be an example to Irish workers and all European workers that the only way to negotiate with the employers is when you have them over a barrel, and don't trust the overpaid bureaucrats who rule over our unions.

This article is derived from news distributed by the A-Infos anarchist electronic news service <>

Joe Black

This article is from Workers Solidarity No 54 published in June 1998