In a recent interview with mbl.is, the secretary of Efling, Ólöf Helga Adolfsdóttir, said that people are willing “to blindly follow” the union’s chairman, Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir. I found this statement quite frustrating, because according to my experience, Sólveig Anna is one of the only public figures in Iceland who seems to understand and honestly assess the current struggles of the lowest-paid workers.
We can all see for ourselves, if we bother to look, that Sólveig has been consistent in her messaging and steadfast in her service to the union’s members. Most of us do see what Sólveig has accomplished with the union, and indeed, we want to see more of it. This enthusiasm was clear to me through Sólveig’s re-election to the position of Chairman amid a media smear-campaign against her, and while working with her and others on strike actions after the last negotiations failed.
Here's what most fail to see: blaming Sólveig for either the perceived faults or the successes of Efling as a union looks past what I believe to be the most important reason she has so much support: She is organizing the union democratically to encourage workers' participation in claiming their own power. The negotiation committee met over twenty times before talks were formally cut and everyone has seen the interest and enthusiasm of the membership in our project at the meetings with the state negotiator and SA. Efling stands united.
The game is rigged
Here’s what else I see, from my perspective as a U.S. American immigrant here in Iceland since 2016:
Most of the time I have been employed in Iceland, I was not paid in accordance with union contracts and standards, nor was I paid according to my actual experience level (I have an open claim against one company from 2019 …still waiting). Wage theft accounts for more total theft than all other forms of stealing combined and yet there is no effective recourse for workers who have been robbed blind by their employers.
I see more and more foreign workers arriving to an impossible housing situation while hotels rise on every corner and private rentals turn profits with hardly any regulation to speak of. I see the unending epidemic of young men dying here while the city government discusses construction of a sporting arena. It sure does make me feel right back at home again – not in a good way.
Union culture is a strong tool
By the way, my home in the U.S. is Asheville, North Carolina. A friend recently established the first union in that city for workers in the vast bar industry. I myself only had the privilege of union membership for the first time in my life when I arrived to Iceland. I see here what a colossal difference strong union culture can make in the struggle for workers to just get a bit of relief from the grind and also have their interests actually represented.
We should not take the privilege for granted, because it won’t surprise me if the long game here by those who would be pleased to see less worker power is weakening of the unions to such a degree that they are no longer effective or can be dismantled. Solidarity with striking workers everywhere and every time is the best and most basic way to ensure that doesn’t happen.
We are sure of our vision and we know what's best for us
I also see the establishment media becoming absolutely obsessed with the Chairman of Efling and going to every inconceivable length to assassinate her character and pretend that she is “bad” for workers and her own union.
All these claims (just like the suggestion of Ólöf’s that Efling’s members aren’t intelligent enough to see for ourselves and draw conclusions) are offensive to me as a member of Efling and as someone who supports Sólveig Anna’s leadership, because they attempt to invalidate my own agency and autonomy, my own good judgement and intuition, as a worker and active union member. As if the other trade union leaders are hitting us over the head with their signed contracts shouting, “This is for your own good!”
Let's stand together
The chairman of Efling has the support of the members, as evidenced by two fair elections. She is simply doing her job and, in my opinion, doing it well. As I said to someone online recently regarding the debate about cost of living in the capital area: Don’t get upset that Efling is demanding more and consider instead putting pressure on your own union to do the same!
Efling is not the bad guy for recognizing that workers need and deserve more, especially during years of record profits for the largest and most powerful business interests – and Efling is not the bad guy for organizing and acting accordingly.
Finally, I see that all these obstacles, all of the unfounded claims and insults to both Sólveig and the members of Efling, are clear indications that we are doing well, perhaps better than some might have imagined. Áfram Efling!
Höfundur er innflytjandi og meðlimur Eflingar.