Herring and Class Struggle

Capitalism came late to Iceland. At the end of the 19th century this large, wind-swept, thinly populated island was made up of small towns, farms and seasonal fishing stations. Then European capitalists saw another Klondike in the herring-rich waters of the north Atlantic..

Sunday 9 November 2014

How long will Iceland's Tory-Liberal coalition last?

Anti-government protests in Iceland appear to be growing again as the Tory-Liberal coalition slides down the polls. Some 4,500 people rallied last Monday in Reykjavik, a city of 120,000 [1], in support of striking doctors and music teachers and against government cuts. Some were also protesting the recent bizarre instance of the police and the Icelandic Coast Guard getting submachine guns. The next protest is planned for 5pm tomorrow, 10 November outside Alþingi, Iceland’s parliament.

Austerity grinds on with liberal Framsókn MP Karl Garðasson announcing last month that the state broadcaster was “bankrupt” and the government would have to “review” it and all publically owned institutions. Obviously this means more cuts and job losses, as it does in districts such as Reykjanesbær in the southwest with the town of Keflavik and its international airport and debt of over ISK 40 billion (£200 million). Fortunately accountants KPMG are on hand to advise on what to cut starting with 5% across the area’s public services budgets.  

Nothing is safe; in the far north east of Iceland, Kópasker and Raufarhöfn villages stand to lose their ambulances in the latest round of cuts. If this happens the nearest ambulance will be 60 miles away—and for a small amount of money affecting only about 300 people somebody will die soon who otherwise could have been saved.

Today, 9 November, is the anniversary of the 1932 Battle of Good Templars House—Guttóslagurinn when in the depths of world depression, a small Communist Party led mass campaigns against wage cuts that shook Iceland for the rest of the decade. Read more about Guttóslagurinn in an article I wrote in Socialist Review in 2008 when the world financial crisis had just crashed on Iceland’s shores and it quickly became clear who the ruling class was going to make pay. 

It wasn't just the Reykjavik authorities who tried to pull wage-cutting stunts in 1932. Just a month later in December the town council in Akureyri, Iceland's capital of the north tried to slash workers wages to 70 aurar or 0.7 Kr an hour - almost a third less than the Reykjavik town council's plan that was stopped by Guttóslagurinn. So my next post will be about the great Nóvu boycott to stop it when after Guttóslagurinn the authorities tried to defeat the workers by flooding the town with their hired thugs, the hated "White Team". That's the point of knowing our history, to understand that we have won before and we can win again. So how long this Icelandic government lasts will partly depend on what workers there do and learning the lessons of their own history will help.

[1] 200,000 people including all the small towns in the Greater Reykjavik area