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Strike on the Norwegian North Sea platforms
After the diktat of national concord against the enemy Covid, the proletarian struggle must not submit again to the blackmail of the crisis and the imperialist war
On 5 July this year, a strike by some of the staff of the North Sea oil and gas platforms broke out. The workers involved in the strike are managers with responsibility for production control, and a work stoppage on their part also means the interruption of activity on the platforms concerned by the strike (1). Their demands are increase of wages. As usual with any strike that is embarrassing for the bourgeoisie, the lack of information does not allow us to dissect the whole course of this struggle. But as brief as it was, only one day, the 5th of July, it took place in an international context of economic and military war, where the bourgeois states only tolerate proletarians' submission and their recruitment in the service of capitalism. There are therefore lessons to be learned from this point of view.
Let us recall the context. With the imperialist war on the Ukrainian battlefield and the parallel and simultaneous war of economic retaliation between the two belligerent blocs, energy and raw materials have become a weapon of economic and financial destruction. Responding to the cannon fire of the West's economic sanctions, Russia has retaliated with other economic missiles to avoid the collapse of the ruble and to benefit today from the super high prices of gas and oil.
With these energy materials, Russia also has an absolute weapon of blackmail against the European countries. By demanding payment for gas and oil in rubles and no longer in dollars, on pain of shutting off the taps, Russia has succeeded not only in strengthening its currency and raising the price of gas, but also in weakening the opposing European imperialism economically and socially. Inflation is hitting hard the working class, which already had no reserves after the Covid-19 crisis, and which today can potentially explode the social peace outside the control of the political, trade union and social forces intended for this control function. The economic and military enemy is known, Russia. The internal social enemy is also known, the proletariat. It makes all the European democracies tremble, and they hurry a little more to set up their security cordon of associations, trade unions and reformist parties, but also to reinforce permanently their security cordon and police surveillance.
For countries such as Latvia, the Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary and Estonia, Russian gas imports, which are more critical in terms of supply than oil, represent 93% to 100% of their energy needs. As for Germany, whose economy pulls the whole of Europe and whose deep crisis would drag all the other European countries into a total collapse, it depends on Russia for 66% of its gas supplies. The other suppliers of gas to Europe are Norway for 20% to 25, Algeria for 12%, the United Kingdom for 6%, then the United States and Qatar, each for 5%. Justifying itself by refusing to pay in rubles or for other reasons, Russia has therefore closed or reduced the tap for many European countries: Poland, Bulgaria, Finland, the Netherlands, Denmark, France. Italy has seen its deliveries halved and Gazprom has reduced its gas deliveries through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline to Germany by 60%. Europe's dependence on Russia for oil is 25%, and even though alternative supplies are easier to find than for gas, they are only available through the purchase of crude oil, the price of which is through the roof, further fuelling inflation.
Whatever the reassuring words of all the bourgeois politicians of Europe in front of the cameras, the crisis is deep and its unpredictable social repercussions distress them more than they show. The friendly or "neutral" gas or oil producing countries are therefore firmly urged to compensate for the Russian gas cuts by a maximum increase in their production, whatever the consequences for the proletarians at the front of this production. Norway in particular is targeted, as the economic survival and social equilibrium in Europe are at stake. The bourgeoisie trembles at the idea that companies, deprived of gas or oil or unable to absorb price increases, will one day have to close down, that the heating of buildings will no longer be assured, that workers will no longer be able to go to work, in short that chaos will set in. The fear of the bourgeoisie is more than ever the specter of the class struggle which always arises at the worst of times, when the social, economic and political shock absorbers rub against the pitfall of the capitalist crisis with the imperialist war as a backdrop, geographically localized for the moment, but which could extend beyond Ukraine if it became the interest of imperialism of the East or of the West.
In these moments of violent tensions and warlike confrontations of the imperialist blocks, the bourgeoisie needs the most perfect social cohesion and collaboration of the proletarians to the efforts of economic and military war. When it does not achieve this through the consenting and "responsible" submission of the proletarians, it uses coercion and constraint that range from the means provided by the arsenal of democratic laws to confine struggles and social agitation to the terrain of legally obligatory and forced "social dialogue", to those of clearly assumed judicial, physical and armed brutality.
It is a kind of "battle of the coal" (2), which is engaged today in Europe so that the proletariat accepts its state of slavery in the capitalist exploitation and that it gives itself body and soul to the sacrifices imposed by the capitalist economic and war crisis. Coal today is gas and oil, and the bourgeoisie in Europe counts on the proletarians of Norway who work on the platforms of the North Sea, to take up this challenge of production in these new times of war. So, no strikes! In 2022 as in 1945-1948!
But in July, the horizon of consensus and social sacrifice suddenly darkened on the North Sea oil and gas platforms with the strike on the platforms of the company Equinor (majority owned by the Norwegian state). Initially, it involved a small number of management workers and affected three platforms, those of Gudrun, Oseberg South and Oseberg East. The strikers are organized within the large trade union Lederne.
The struggle began with the issue of inflation and its impact on purchasing power. The mobilization of workers began in May, and the unions, including Lederne, quickly negotiated a wage agreement with management providing for a 4% to 4.5% wage increase. But by then inflation had already reached 5.7%! The unionized workers at Lederne reacted to this farce by rejecting the agreement by a large majority, forcing the union to file a strike notice... for Tuesday, July 5.
Three platforms, representing 1% of Norwegian gas exports, were initially affected by the announced strike. The movement was quickly joined by four other platforms, this time representing 13% of these exports. According to the bosses themselves, the strike movement could only spread like wildfire to all platforms. The employers' organization Norsk Olje & Gass estimated the impact of the strike at 56% of gas exports if it were to spread from one platform to another and last until the end of the week.
The media did not dwell too much on the history of the strike and the reasons for it, but they all echoed the terrible bourgeois concerns about its economic and strategic consequences. The mere prospect of this strike, even before it started, shook all the leading strata of the Norwegian state but also of the client states, in particular Great Britain, for which Norway supplies 42% of domestic needs and which re-exports a large quantity to Belgium and the Netherlands, and France, for which 40% of the gas consumed comes from this country, which certainly made the telephones of the leaders hot.
Faced with the risk of losing huge profits, and also faced with a situation where the Norwegian state was unable to keep its commitments to the war effort for production for European countries, the Norwegian social-democratic government, warned two months in advance, lost no time: On Tuesday evening, July 5, the first and only day of the strike, it placed the strikers under a law obliging them, on pain of legal sanctions, to return to work and to rely on an "independent" but official class collaboration body to "manage" the continuation of the conflict.
The Minister of Labour of the "left" government, Marte Mjos Persen, declared: "The announced aggravation of the movement is very worrying in the present situation, with the energy crisis and the geopolitical situation, there is a war in Europe", but also "When the conflict can have such important social consequences for the whole of Europe, I have no other choice than to intervene in the conflict". He thus expressed how much the social question is primordial today for the bourgeoisie and how much the danger of social explosion tarries it.
Another quotation that sheds light on the method of legal regulation of the proletariat in Norway, as in the Nordic countries in general, is that of Maria Schumacher Walberg, minister delegate: "In accordance with the process of resolving wage disputes in Norway, it is the responsibility of the social partners to find a solution to any conflict". The union, which belongs to the large LO Confederation (Landesorganisasjone), which is a staunch supporter of the Social Democrats (New Labour), complied with the agreement.
We obviously do not know all the real conditions and the history of this short strike of the Norwegian offshore managers, and are unable to draw all the lessons with confidence.
Except one: the one that makes this strike on the subject of the resistance to the national consensus, an example for all the proletarians who undergo the powerful and incessant pressures of capitalism to make them pay for the crisis, in particular by means of recruitment and ideological identification consisting in sacrificing themselves for the "good cause" of the "just war" and the "just side". The bourgeois propaganda of the war of the democracies against the barbarity of Russia in Ukraine, hides the real imperialist nature of the war and the full responsibility in its triggering of the capitalist society which exacerbates the antagonisms of the bourgeois states until they are solved by war rather than by diplomatic and economic negotiations which appear to be peaceful, but which have become sterile and unable to settle the questions of the economic relations of force. The proletarians must not fall into the ideological trap set for them by the bourgeoisie.
To refuse to participate in social peace and to submit to the productivist diktats of an economy that has gone to war, but on the contrary to affirm and fight with its weapons and its class independence to defend itself against the deteriorating living conditions, in particular against the brutal erosion of wages in the face of inflation, to use in any circumstance the weapon of the strike, to refuse all the blackmails to the betrayal of the "good cause" and to the "irresponsibility", and finally to show that the interests of the proletarians are not soluble in those of the capitalism and that there is no convergence between them: here is the lesson that we can certainly draw.
(1) Audun Ingwartsen, leader of Lederne: “Our members are key people who control production, so when they go on strike, it would be normal for the employer to shut down the platforms.”
(2) At the end of the Second World War in France, the de Gaulle government demanded a superhuman production effort from the miners to enable the reconstruction of the country. In 1945, Thorez, secretary general of the French Communist Party and minister of this government, declared to the miners: "To produce is today the highest form of class duty, of French duty". Driven by these chauvinistic propaganda, the miners gave their lives to ensure, in exchange for a few salary benefits, the tonnage of coal required. Once the production result was achieved, all their wage and social benefits were swept away without mercy or remorse and they returned to the material conditions of the past. In 1948 the resulting strike of 200,000 miners lasted 54 days and was fiercely repressed: 6 deaths, 1342 prison sentences and 3000 dismissals.
International Communist Party
July, 11th 2022
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