Kiruna LKAB Management Storyteller Worker

Storyteller #23 – if I was the CEO…

Next storyteller is a man from Kiruna who have worked a long time above ground for the company, LKAB. During our conversation, the new CEO, Jan Moström, is brought up.

It’s turbulent because Moström, here he comes and, listen now, this is brilliant, because Moström is known as “The Butcher”, but no one has felt any butchering. I use to say in the sauna after [work], I use to say that ‘boys, have you noticed that Moström is a butcher?’. He just waves and cuts away all fat. He’s very good at facts, ‘this is how we’re doing’ or ‘this is how it looks’, and then just cuts away. No one points with the whole hand and says “Bloody idiots!”. He is very professional.

How do you notice this?

But that’s what I’m saying. I do notice it. People disappear, but no necessary people have disappeared. The best ones are still here. […]

If you were Moström and look at your own workplace, what would you do?

I wouldn’t not kick the poor man I just talked about [a man who ‘made sure the coffee pot was warm’]. I would ask what they would like to do. Ask where they would fit in. […] I would start with the weakest. Lets put it this way, you’re not stronger than the weakest link in the band.

Kiruna LKAB Storyteller

Storyteller #22 – young people with money

Part of our research strategy and ideas on where a labor process begins and ends, is that we cannot only talk to people in the core of the process, as in workers, managers and suppliers. Other people and other places might also be relevant. Our next storyteller is an example of this. She is a young woman, who has grown up in Kiruna and now works in town for a company not related to mining.

The mine controls the town.

Is it so?

Mm, it is so from my point of view and I think most people share my view. The mine controls the town. That’s how it is.

Okay, in what way?

If the mine wouldn’t be here, we wouldn’t live here either. It was the mine that attracted all people here and that formed Kiruna. If they would have to close down now, than everybody would move out of here. There’d be no jobs left. […]

Would you consider working in the mine?

Yes, money, that’s why. But beyond this, I don’t know. […] I don’t like that when you’re 19 years old you get 25.000 crowns [Swedish crowns, SEK] in the hand, when a normal 19 years old get max 16.000 crowns […] The differences are radical and they don’t get to see the real world. […] You see them buy new snowmobiles, fourwheelers, cars, when they are like 25 years old. […] That’s no reality. You’ve lost reality. […] a lot of them save up to a new car, but most of them also take loans because they know they’ll continue [working for the company], even though there’s nothing in writing, they know they’ll continue. […] But I’m probably jealous of them, but I’m angry with LK[AB] for paying these salaries. It’s sad that a 19 years old cannot see his or her reality in the salary. They should have age-determined salaries, so it’s LK that’s doing it wrong. Poor things [the young workers] who later have to face reality for real, its crappy for them being spoiled like this. It’s like being “curled” by a parent except that here LK is the biggest mother in town.


Book Kiruna LKAB Luleå Music Narvik Sweden

The Swedish National Treasure

Below is a musicvideo by us (in Swedish) about “The book of LKAB : the national treasure of Sweden”, published by LKAB, the mining company running the Kiruna mine. The book celebrates the first 125 years of mining in Malmfälten and it is available in both English and Swedish. It’s a very informative read, revealing how rich and international the history of mining in the north is. We highly recommend it. But, it is also a book written for the company and the song is based on a more critical reading.

The song is on the Organizing rocks album “Gruvan, makten, samhället” and you can find it on all major digital distributors. It is also available on Youtube. Click here to get it on Spotify.

Kiruna LKAB Storyteller Worker

Storyteller #19 – youth and work-life career in rural communities

Next storyteller, from the Swedish case, on living in a remote, small community and finding work in the mine:

Where are you born?

40 kilometres from Karesuando and 220 kilometres from Kiruna.

How did you end up here?

I had to start the gymnasium and, well, then you automatically end up here. A lot of commuting, from the village to the town, to the village again.

You lived here [in Kiruna] during the weeks then?


How did you end up in the mine?

I was a pupil on the LKAB gymnasium and then you automatically get summer practice, and then when I graduated I ended up below ground.


What will you do in 5 years time, do you work here?

Don’t know. I was recently travelling [—], then I felt that I could work here for the rest of my life. [—] I was homesick, and even missed my work. [—] I don’t now if it will be the same workplace, but at least somewhere in LKAB. [—] I think it’s good to work for LKAB, but it is hard to compare. Maybe I think this way because I have not experienced any-other employer.

Iron Kiruna LKAB Management Storyteller Union Worker

Storyteller #14 – on unions and strikes

Storyteller #14 is a man working above ground for over twenty years at LKAB in Kiruna. Below is an extract from our conversation where we talk about the worker collective and the role of the union.

– That time, around 1969/70 (the time of the big strike, spontaneously started by a worker in Svappavaara, not a strike organised by the union), when they began getting power over the workers, and when the union began being damn hollowed…

– That they are too weak?

– I think they are too weak.

– You mean that the workers will find other ways, just as they did in 69, when disappointed with…

– Today, I think the workers are rather tethered with rather demanding amortisations (a house or an apartment, a ski-doo etc.). They won’t strike. I don’t think so.

– They abide to…?

– You abide, I mean considering the debt burden they have, you see? Back then, you didn’t have a debt burden. It was more about surviving the day and putting food on the table. But today, you’ve lived so damn good for so many years. Especially if we think about those born in the 1990s who have now started to work for the company. They come directly from school, all of a sudden they have monthly salary of 30.000 (SEK). Hello?!

– Plus supplements?

– Plus supplements, you understand, it’s easy to get speed-blinded. And if you’re speed-blinded you accumulate debts. These guys who are, this is the perfect thing for the company, I mean those who remain after this “clean sweep” (lay-offs), the others have to sell the whole shebang, to someone, if there are someone who wants to buy.

– Yes, it’s a lot now. I mean, we can feel that, what you talked about previously, during 1969, then there were these old, time-study men who came down, too close and then a reaction. This wouldn’t happen now, not happen now.

– I’ve been part of the workers’ collective and been through at least three strikes, I think. 99 we had a strike, 2000 ah, when was it? 2002 or something like that, and then sometime around 2007. The thing is that in the works (above ground), we’ve never been prone to strike, but…

– Why?

– I don’t know why. We’ve been quite satisfied with the situation and we’ve had it quite good here. We’ve worked our shifts, had our weeks off. But under ground, in some way, it has become, I don’t know really what it’s all about. The strikes have always started under ground. If they start them under ground and then there is no ore coming up to the works and the works stand still, it’s not until then that management start reacting: “Ah, there is no pellets. What the hell!” And who do they come to then? Well, not to the source, but to the last step in the production process: “Why do you stand still?” Well, then you simply say: “We have no ore.” But we’ve been damn good at showing solidarity up here in the works. We’ve always taken their (the strikers under ground) side. I don’t always even know why they strike.

Kiruna LKAB Nature Storyteller

Storyteller #13 – smoke and sustainability

Storyteller #13 is a woman, working in a white-collar position. We asked:

– When you look at the mine, what kind of images do you get (in your head)?

– When you come back from the mountains, we’re very often in the mountains to ski, so when we drive back into town, then you have the view of the (the old) open pit and the backside of the works, which you don’t see from town. Then we use to look and try to decide if there’s a lot of smoke, is production good or how does it look? It’s still the lifeblood in society. I think most feel that they want the mines and the operations to do well.

– Another type of question. If you read about mining, and we’re, and have been for many years now, interested in sustainable development, and efforts to run a “sustainable mine”, how do you think about that? I’ve to be honest and say that it sounds like an oxymoron, a self-contradiction.

– Yes, of course, sure it is. You cannot do a, you cannot have a mine without making a hole and a serious wound in the ground and in nature. You cannot have a mine without having a large environmental impact from the mine. But at the same time, those who protest against mine operations, such as in the large riots in Kallak, Jokkmokk, they still want a mobile phone, they want to bike, they make use of trains and they use vehicles and transports, and they maybe fly from the south of Sweden to get up here. They make use of societal structures and such, then we need these metals and products that come from the mining operations. We need them, and at the same time we have chosen a way of living that demands these resources, these natural resources. I believe that if you want these resources within the country’s borders, then you have to show solidarity and use part of your land for this in order to extract these resources from the ground. Globally, it might even be good to have a mine and mining operations in Sweden where you have grand rules that are environmentally adapted, that enable a somewhat more sustainable mine than what they perhaps have in Brazil.

[see also post from May 25, 2015, on checking the plumes of smoke]
Kiruna LKAB Storyteller Supplier

Storyteller #12 – “when the company sneezes…

…the whole town gets a cold.” This is an old saying, repeated to us by storyteller #12, working for a contractor to the Company, LKAB.

– You use to say that when LKAB sneezes, the whole town gets a cold, so in these more difficult times we’re also influenced. We’ve had to lower our prices and all contractors have been summoned to LKAB to lower their prices.

– Yes, we’ve heard about this and even read about it in the media.

– Yes, it’s widely known.

– How are they in the negotiations then?

– It’s our owners (of the contractor) who are involved in that, I’m not part of it, but it’s surely a matter of give-and-take. It’s obvious that LKAB reads our annual accounts so maybe they draw their conclusions. We must also make money in order to develop so…

– So they can check your profit margins?

– Yes, absolutely, I believe they do, and through that they can say that ‘you could reduce this amount’. I think they do this, they are smart.

Kiruna LKAB Storyteller Supplier

Storyteller #11 – having to move

Storyteller #11 is a local person, working for a contractor to LKAB and the Kiruna mine. This story is about having to move because of the expansion of the mine. The conversation takes place at a local restaurant.

– Because we live in this area that will be teared down. All these houses are affected.

[detailing where exactly this area is]


– How do you think about this?

– Well, for us (family with young kids), privately, it feels tough to move, given the situation that there’s nowhere to move. The prices have gone through the roof and it’s difficult to find a house, and it’s not easy, it’s quite complicated. But at the same time you have to understand that we live in a mining town and it has to do with the jobs. It’s influencing several years before it’s time to move.

– Have you received, how are the kids affected?

– The kids say that ‘daddy, do we have to tear down the house and move?’. That’s not so fun to hear. Their history is to live here so they don’t see living here as positive (knowing that they have to move), but they don’t see the bigger picture, they don’t have this view that it’s about the survival of the city.

[talk about the kids]


– We’ve received, we went to a meeting and then we got the information that in 2020 they (LKAB) wants to own the property. But now they’ve looked again at the deformation zones and it seems as if it (the move) will be postponed again, so we might be able to stay some more years before they want to own it.

– How does that influence, ‘should we put up new wallpapers?’?

– Yes, it’s about that. We’ve renovated ever since we moved in because it was pretty run downed, so we shaped it up, but there’s still the kitchen to go. But now, I’ve lost the motivation completely, the organization is under ground. When you talk to the neighbours you feel that they’ve also lost the motivation to do something. The fact that you don’t know influences this (the motivation), and we’re looking at alternatives, to maybe move out of town. We’ve thought about that since it’s so difficult to find a house you’d like to live in. And many are thinking like this, it’s not just we who think about moving.

Kiruna LKAB Storyteller Worker

Storyteller #10 – education and a good salary

Storyteller #10 is a young person working under ground, educated through the LKAB program at the gymnasial level.

– How did you get into the mine?

– I went to the LKAB gymnasium (a specific program at the local gymnasium in Kiruna) and then you automatically get an internship during Summer, and sometimes I continued (working) during Summers. When I graduated I ended up under ground.

[talk about the content of the education]


– Why did you choose it (the LKAB program)?

– I didn’t know what I wanted to take and then it was like, take the LK program and then you’ll get a good job, good pay, it’s easier to get it. Almost all from my class have got a job at LK if they wanted to and the pay is good.

– Is it better under ground?

– Under ground you have an under ground addition and a miner addition (to your salary), and shorter days, so it’s better. But then you have the mountain above your head, so it’s what you…

[later we come back to the role of education and the good pay]


– Your friends, the ones you socialise with after work, do they also work at LKAB?

– Some.

– Not all of them?

– The ones I went to class with.

– Okay.

– They still work at LK. But then there are many who are kindergarten teachers, in health care, cashiers and so on.

– Do you talk about the mine when you socialise?

– It has a lot to do with my salary, it’s a big topic of conversation.

– In what way?

– It’s like I can afford everything, a lot about that, money interferes pretty much I think, that they (LKAB) pay well but not ‘down town’ (for other organisations) and still you work similar times and struggle just as much but…

– What do you say (to them) then?

– Well, it’s like, I usually say that you also should have taken the LKAB program.

LKAB Management Storyteller Worker

Storyteller #9 – first line managers

Storyteller #9, a man, started working for the company before the famous worker collective strike in 1969/70. Working in a variety of positions, he reflects on the current, tough requirements on the first line managers in the company.

– …the first line managers have, first of all, upper management who pressures them from above. Then they have coworkers who pressure them as well. They are placed between two fires. […] Then it’s demanded that I to do more and more. I don’t have time for my coworkers. I’ve been a manager myself, I’ve always said that the most important role for the manager is to take care of the coworkers, give the coworkers the opportunities to do a safe and good job, give them the best possible conditions. That’s my obligation and my most important work task as a manager. But if I can’t be a manager for my coworkers, that I have to do administration and a lot of other stuff so that I don’t have time for coworkers, that’s the frustration a lot of these managers feel. They think, ‘I can’t do a good job, I’m not a good manager’.

Kiruna LKAB Storyteller Supplier

Storyteller #8 – contractors

Storyteller #8 is a man, working above ground, a white collar. This story is about the role of contractors.

– I’d say that the majority of the jobs (done by contractors) are done by local companies. If you look at international companies, they have a relatively small share, particularly if you compare with geographical areas that are closer to the rest of Europe. It’s pretty far up to Kiruna or Malmberget, which means that we don’t have the same global market. So, the majority is made up of local companies, then there’s a small, small share of international companies.

– Could you say that many of them… used to be employed by the Company, or? Maybe you don’t track this…

– Yes, but it’s both, it’s both companies that have always worked here, they’ve always had their own companies. Before we used to have more functions in-house but during a period now we’ve outsourced and during that time, maybe it was more that you said to those skilled people, that ‘couldn’t you start this company’…

– Okay, so we could hire you?

– Yes, it was probably a bit like that. […]

– I’m thinking, that much I’ve understood, that there’s a very strong faith in the Company, that it carries Kiruna in a way. Does that mentality exist among the contractors, that it is the Company that should fix it, that should pay the bill? Do you understand what I mean? It’s a kind of patron mentality. If something happens, the Company will come in and fix it.

– Yes, that’s the case. It (the Company) is a very important customer to a lot of contractors, that’s how it is. From history you also know that when times are worse, it’s the contractors that go first. You protect the own staff over everything else.

Kiruna LKAB Storyteller

Storyteller #7 – wrong research strategy

We met storyteller #7 for the first time in a hotel lobby in Kiruna. He is an experienced miner, a man, presently working above ground. After talking to us for a while, he concludes that our research strategy is wrong.

– Actually, you’re doing this the wrong way, I have to say. If I were you I’d first go around and observe (inside the gates), first get an understanding (of the context of work) and then start interviewing. Because, here you are, you don’t have a clue about how it is, how it looks, what can happen. So come out, an ordinary day, and see. Then you know about different areas, that’s how it looks, how greasy it can be. With your approach, you have to memorise (what I am telling you) and then realise it when your out-there. It should be the other way around! Interviews seem perfect AFTER you’ve been out running.

Kiruna LKAB Management Storyteller Worker

Storyteller #6 – visibility and organizational change

Storyteller #6 is a man who have worked above ground for 20 years, previously as a worker, now as a manager. His story is one about visibility and organizational change.

– When you change from under ground to above ground … (is that a change from ‘we’ to ‘them’?)

– That there are different practices of work, or?

– ‘We get the stone up, but you…’

– [—] Everybody works together and has different ways of working. You’ve always heard that it’s much freer under ground, and everything that’s tested by management is always tested here (above ground, first). They (under ground) have it better in this sense. They escape everything new that has to be tested.

– How do you mean exactly?

– All these different things, when they’re moving people (new ways of organizing groups) and situational changes, it always ends up last down there, so they avoid this.

– Guineapigs?

– Yes, that might be so, but it’s easier (for them).

– What do you think is the reason for this?

– [—] We’re easier to get at, to see and to test on. When people start to work under ground it seems as if they stay put (with their groups, their tasks). Up here it seems as if they’re shuffled around, people shift with each other, and a lot of other things. [—] At one place, where I worked for ten years, I had at least ten different managers. So, it was kind of an entry point for managers, but we were quite autonomous. For a while we were without a manager for six months. We didn’t need a manager, it worked perfectly.

Kiruna LKAB Management Storyteller Worker

Storyteller #5 – management

This story about management is told by a man who have been working in the mine for a quarter of a century, both under and above ground, previously as a worker, now as a manager.

– I have my own theory: that it’s more trustworthy, for those (workers) who have to change, when a (a leader with experience of working in a mine) comes. ‘He’s one of us, so he knows what it’s all about’. Lately, I’ve learned to listen to those ‘down there’ (as in the hiearchy and as in under ground). Don’t be up here and go down and tell them that ‘now we do it like this’. It’s much better to try to ‘draw the map’, what are our goals, to get them to understand this also, without explicitly telling them (how to do it). Describe the problem, also from their point of view: ‘How shall we do this then?’ Most often, it does not turn out as I would’ve liked to have it, but it gets close enough.

– You are more reliable, or?

– I’ve seen many managers that have entered, having been assigned management roles (while lacking experience), and then they’ve quickly been ‘dribbled’ away by the personnel.