Iron Kiruna LKAB Management Union Worker


What is the relation between capital and workers today? Is a political will and struggle still present? As in the strike in 1969/1970 where the predominant part of the workers (a strong collective) in Svappavaara and Kiruna jointly shouted out that “we are humans”, “we want higher salaries”, “a safer and more humane workload”.

If human dignity, salary, and safe and humane working conditions were essential in the 1969 strike, then what could be essential today?

A common social science analysis is the continuous individualizing process, in which the bandwagon of development is the consumer society. In an evolving consumer society, the social state is on the retreat (the state that attempted to craft collective solutions to individual problems) and individuals increasingly need to craft successful strategies to collective problems themselves. If you succeed, congrats, if not, sorry, but there is little “we the collective” can do about it.

Yet, in the Kiruna mine 99 % of the workers employed by LKAB are members of the union. An impressive figure, regardless if you like unions or not. So, in theory the political will and struggle are theoretically manifested in this high degree of membership. When talking to mining veterans, however, they rather explicitly state that the younger generations are only passive members (the union – those who serve as ombudsmen – need to tackle this) and have lost the political will to fight on behalf of a collective. Thus, implicitly they say that it is a matter of a shift in generations (a classic) and that it is a matter of a collective that behaves like swarms of bees.

Decision making and relations between different subjects (or species) in a swarm “are coordinated without being integrated” (Zygmunt Bauman, 2001, Community, Polity Press, especially pages 127-129). A swarm then, consists of individuals that fail to develop joint political and ethical purposes and will, that is, a collective movement.

If we accept this analysis, it is bad news for the unions and the unions can even be said to be partly guilty in fueling this development (see Huzzard, 2000, Labourning to learn, Borea, Umeå; listen also to our song “Labouring to learn. The Tony Huzzard song”). So, no collective will and struggle, no integrated effort made to develop joint political and ethical purposes around how to influence and change the relation between capital and labour.

But all this might be exaggerated. It might be a question of a ‘threshold level’. In 1969 a series of events led up to a point where a coordinated collective started to integrate and act in unison. The question then is if there, today, are any signs of events unfolding that carry with them a potential for political collective struggle? We are not so sure about this so far (probably never will be), but some signs seem relevant to at least consider. Miners on Facebook sometimes post about “bad” things, including pictures (despite that it is forbidden), occasional spontaneous outbursts of “sit-down-strikes” occur (small strikes), there also happens that part of the production system suddenly loose its “flow” (or becomes less efficient and productive) and when management wonders about what is happening, the reply from the shop-floor is “talk to us”.

Let us not forget also that the markets for metals and minerals are volatile and at this time the price for iron ore has been going down from record levels to what some say are more normal levels but others say are signs of a regression. That the price will be rather low for a while now seems, however, to be rather consensual. Contemporary times might, then, be thought of as a “window of opportunity” containing a main context in which a series of events occur that triggers collective integration and action.

We would like to add that concerning the specific case of LKAB:s Kirunamine and our focus on power relations and labour process, we are really neither fearing nor wishing for a rise of political will and struggle (it would be an interesting twist to our case, though), but on a general level, the societal level, the collective political will and struggle, we think, are necessary to protect and develop democracy in general and industrial democracy in particular.