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It is time for a radical response

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Last week Efling launched a campaign in support of a worker fired in retribution for being a union representative (""https://www.efling.is/en/2021/10/icelandair-attacks-a-union-rep-and-workers-rights/""). Rightfully so, Ólöf Helga Adolfsdóttur has our full solidarity.

I was a bit surprised at the strong reaction from the union. We have known several foreign workers over the years who were fired or simply removed from shift schedules in retribution for being a union representative. It is common practice in the tourism and restaurant sector. There was no campaign for them, no attempt by the union to get their job back, only a legal case that took about two years and ended with the workers maybe getting a pay out of two or three months wages.



This is why firing of representatives are so common for foreign workers. There are very few consequences for employers and it is very much worth paying a bit of money to get rid of an active worker, who can make sure their coworkers rights are respected and send a message that anyone can be fired for speaking up.

My brilliant comrade said last year over coffee, that the rights abuses foreign workers have been experiencing for years will also affect Icelandic workers once the economic downturn from Covid sets in. This is also not the first time Icelandair is blatantly braking Icelandic labour law with the full support of the SA (Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise). Earlier this year they fired striking workers, something we made a video about (""https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_RH4tg9mh1o"") and something that they faced zero consequences for, because ASÍ (the Icelandic Confederation of Labour) was very concerned about preserving the peace on the labour market. I cannot help but see the actions of Icelandair in the past as a concentrated effort to erode union rights in Iceland, especially as both times they had the full backing of the SA. Which is why the statement of Ragnar Þór Ingólfsson, chairmain of VR union “I find it quite unlikely that a company in the position that [Icelandair] is in will go to war with the union movement” (""https://www.visir.is/g/20212166353d/med-o-likindum-ad-icelandair-aetli-i-strid-vid-verka-lyds-hreyfinguna"") gave me quite a headache.



Our rights are under attack. Whether it is in the small scale of union representatives getting fired or a full on attack on the right to strike, employers are trying to introduce radical changes to the labour market. It is time for a radical response by the unions.


Cool German Words - Kraftakt

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Kraftakt is a feat or something that required great effort to do. Literally it translates as an act of strength. My Kraftakt last year was getting our branch of the IWW back on track. In the next post I will describe everything we did last year, which included direct action, becoming a youtube star creating super pretty pamphlets and many many meetings and spreadsheets.


Socialized Health Care

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I got my second vaccination this week! Like thousands of others I was asked to come to Laugardalshöll, the only indoor arena in Iceland. Last time I was here was for a Sigur Rós concert.

The vaccinations are surprisingly well organised. Actually, I generally think I have been unfair on Icelanders on their ability to organise things. The management of the crowds at the eruption (creating parking spaces, hiking paths and keeping everyone safe and informed) has been exceptional.
The vaccination organisation could have been set to music. The rows of chairs emptying and filling like clockwork, nurses moving synchronized from row to row. It took about half an hour for 400 people to be vaccinated, during one day the amount of people vaccinated were thousands.

All of this was organised by the state run health care centres, with the nurses being the unsung heroes, as usual. The Icelandic state as repeatedly screwed the nurses in collective agreement negotiations, last one was last year, in the middle of the epidemic. No matter who is in government, each is happy to use the government's to restrict the nurses right to strike to force them into compromises. I hope that maybe in the next negotiations everyone remembers how much the nurses stepped up during the epidemic and comes out with them in solidarity.



The smoke rising from the mountains behind me? That is the volcano.


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!


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