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Ég er bara fræg!

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For the past year I have been organising a Free Supermarket at Andrými. Last week I was interviewed by RUV (the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service) for a radio program. You can listen to it (and my brilliant Icelandic) here. You can use it as a drinking game, drink every time I say "bara" (a filler word), you won't make it until the end of the 10 min interview.

They insisted on using my last name in the description, but forgot to ask about the spelling and ended up with "Christina Milscha" thanks to my Aachener accent. Everyone at my work still recognized my voice. With this and all the videos I have been doing for the IWW (more about that in another post), I am well on my way becoming a celebrity.





Industrial unionism

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Last year the flight attendants were fired by in the middle of negotiations for a new collective agreement, in a blatant disregard by Icelandair for Icelandic labour law. They planned to go on strike in response and in an act of complete lack of solidarity the pilot and their union (FÍA) openly planned to break the strike and take on the tasks of the flight attendants (also not legal under Icelandic labour law, but it seems to have lost all it's meaning anyway). If you want to know more about the whole Icelandair saga from last year (and the insane amount of taxpayer money going their way in form of loans by the government), you can watch my video on it here.

The CEO of Icelandair has been chosen the businessman of the year 2020 by the Icelandic economic newspaper. Because if you rely on government handouts for your business to survive and break Icelandic labour law, you are an example to follow, I guess. For the pilots, helping to undermine labour law did not turn out so great. The pilot union was negotiating a new collective agreement with Bláfugl (a cargo airline) in December, when all the pilots employed as wage employees were fired and told that from next year on Bláfugl was only going to hire contractors. The firings were legal this time, as the old collective agreement was still in place, but the pattern of union busting is clear (a similar approach had already been used by tour bus companies since 2019, but they mainly employ foreigners, so nobody cared).

The legal system seems ill equipped to handle these cases, ASÍ (confederation of unions) did not want to pursue Icelandair in court, and for FÍA there does not seem to be a legal way to stop employers from forcing workers to work as contractors, even if they are clearly only seemingly self employed. We increasingly see employers pit different group of workers against each other, pilots against flight attendants, wage employees against contractors and it has weakened the labour movement immensely in the last two years alone. Here is a case to be made for organizing industrially, instead of each union just focusing on their one small group of workers. And one inspiring example of industrial unionizing has just sprung up, at Google of all places.

Alphabet Workers Union is an industrial union. They do not only organize full time employees, but also temporary employees, vendors, and contractors. They understand that the power of the union comes directly from the ability of workers at the workplace to organize and control the means of production. Their explicit goal, as a union, is not only to negotiate wages every few years, but to give workers control over their workplace. And even before they became an official union they have had immense successes, all of which can be found here.

Icelandic unions are stuck in the trade union system of the 1990s, where the only role of the union is to negotiate a collective agreement. They reduced organizing and control over workplaces in return for institutional and political legitimacy. Icelandic employers have learned to undermine this system, the cases of Icelandair and FÍA are just an escalation of developments in the past 10 years, developments we foreigners have felt for the longest time, being the canary in the coal mine due to our vulnerable position in Icelandic society. Fortunately for Iceland, foreign unions, who have had to react and adapt to union busting for a much longer time, have found ways to use the basic building blocks of unionizing to regain control. All we have to do is learn from their example.

Organize! Organize! Organize!


Cool German words - Totschlagargument

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Literally killdead argument is an argument that is a sure win in any discussion. I used it the other day in a video about strikes in Iceland (I'm becoming an internet star, something I will talk about in a later post). In Iceland inflation is the argument to end all arguments, if you are against any policy all you have to do is show that it will lead to inflation and the policy will be rejected, no matter how sensible it is otherwise (another Totschlagargument in Iceland is independence. In Germany, where we are less afraid of hyperinflation (because we do not try to maintain a currency with a population of 350.000) the Totschlagargument is "it will lose (or create) jobs", an argument that was used for all the new labour measures introduced in the 90s and any other kind of business friendly (and anti worker) policy. In both countries these arguments are regularly used to explain why the minimum wage cannot be a living wage.


Is the Icelandic police racist?

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Last month a picture of a police officer with patches of known neo-nazi symbols was published in one of the major newspapers, prompting a discussion about racism in the police. The police officer in question claimed they had been given the patches as presents and were not aware of their meaning. Even if this were true, this still leaves the question why someone would give a police officer these patches in the first place and if the Icelandic police is unaware of common symbols of hate groups in general. In response to the incidence an MP of the pirate party suggested that a committee should be established to investigate possible racism within the police. The police were of course outraged at the suggestion.

Earlier this year the police acquired a van for the purpose of better border control on harbours around the Reykjavik area. As this was in the middle of covid and the usual cruise ships were not visiting Iceland this year (good riddance) they decided that this van can also be used to drive around Reykjavik and stop cars with (and I quote) "Romanian looking" people in it and, well, frisk them.

Last year in march refugees protested their conditions in the refugee shelters and the drawn out process for asylum on Austurvöllur. During the same time workers who were on strike were also organising pickets and protests around the square. Additionally the kids from Fridays for Future were there every Friday. The refugees were met by 20 police (they themselves were around 30) and pepper sprayed during the peaceful protest. The workers (also around 30) and kids from Friday for Future (around 60) did not encounter any police, as they had adopted a deescalation strategy of plain clothed officers in a car around the corner.

The proposed committee to investigate possible racism within the police has not been established, so whether or not the Icelandic police is racist will remain a mystery.


Strætó a(nother) rant

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I do not like Strætó very much. Now in the pandemic they have been doing everything to justify my disdain for them.

They started out well. When the first wave hit, they took measures to protect their drivers. They taped off the front of the bus and made passengers go in and out in the back, holding up their bus card, easily keeping the 2m distance.
Then they decided they really would like their passengers to die. Instead of implementing any of the social distancing measures other bus companies around the world have been doing (taping off seats, deploying more buses during rush hour), they decided to cut the service. The only motivation was to use the crisis to cut costs, public safety be damned.
People using the public transport in Iceland are mainly blue collar, low income and essential workers, those who cannot work from home (cleaning staff, kitchen staff, hospital staff etc). With fewer buses running every hour, buses were more crowded. There was no mask requirement in the first wave.
In the second wave Strætó got an exception to requiring masks (usually if it is not possible to keep the 2m rule, masks are required). They went back and forth on whether they want to make masks mandatory anyway, until they came up with the rule that you are only supposed to wear a mask if your travelling time is more than 30 min. Because that is not complicated and confusing at all. They also decided that they do not actually care about the safety of their drivers, not requiring them to wear masks either and having people enter from the front, breathing in their drivers faces. Probably because people were using the measures from the first wave to use expired bus cards and we are all welcome to die to make sure Strætó makes a profit.



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