Book Iron Kiruna LKAB Luleå

Gruvans makt – ny bok ute!

Äntligen är vår populärvetenskapliga bok om Kirunagruvan ute! Klicka här för att beställa boken.

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En gång i tiden satt gruvnäringen och Kiruna ihop. Ett ömsesidigt beroende som ändrats med tiden. Men vad händer när gruvbolaget inte behöver Kirunaborna i samma utsträckning? När bolaget mer och mer förlitar sig på arbetskraft i form av fly-in fly-out? När fast anställda kan ersättas av entreprenörer? När allt färre händer behövs för att få upp malmen?

In English: finally, our popular science book about the Kiruna mine is published, but in Swedish…

Book Bradon Iron Kiruna Researcher

The Pilbara: from the deserts profits come

Academic life is especially good when leading to new and inspiring collaborations. Early June, we got a visit to Luleå by professor Bradon Ellem from Sydney University. Bradon has vast experiences from the mining industry in the Pilbara (North Western Australia). He also happened to be a great thinker and theoriser of space-time aspects relevant to mining, aspects we’re bending our minds around at the moment.

Together with Bradon we’ve started writing a paper, aimed at organization studies and its dealings with space-time aspects, with our ethnography of the Kiruna mine as empirical material (Bradon has been to Kiruna a couple of times). Looking very much forward to this! We’d also like to flag Bradon’s new book, analysing the history of industrial relations in the iron ore industry, The Pilbara: From the Deserts Profits Come. It’ll be published in July 2017 by UWA Publishing.

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.

Iron Kiruna LKAB Luleå

The way of the iron ore

The theater group Tornedalsteatern/Tornionlaakson teatteri works to enhance the interest for the culture and language (meänkieli) of people living in Torndealen, close to the border between Finland and Sweden. The group is a mix of amateurs and professionals doing very professional productions.

Their latest project is a theater called Malmens väg/Malmin tie/Málmma geaidnu (the way of the ore) and is about the role of the iron ore mines in the north. Organizing rocks is part of the day program in Luleå (August 18) and in Kiruna (August 24), lecturing about the project.

A great way to start the new semester!

Iron Kiruna LKAB Luleå Management Media Politician

Annual meeting

Yesterday, Johan attended LKAB:s annual meeting in Luleå, Sweden. It was an interesting, maybe even odd, experience (see a picture gallery further down).

A lot of suits, difficult to know how many attended, maybe 50 people. I feel rather alone in my hoodie (or bunny-hug as they say in Saskatchewan). Besides top management and board members of LKAB, the Swedish Minister of Industry, Mikael Damberg, was there, our national superstar Charlotte Kalla (cross-country skier, sponsored by LKAB), all the relevant media (state television and radio, local newspapers), the Mayor of Kiruna, the former Governor of Norrbotten etc.

Except for a few of those present, we’re there to watch and listen. This is a ceremony, a staged performance. LKAB has 700 000 stocks and all of them are owned by the Swedish state. The annual meeting, that is, is a dialogue between two persons, the chairman of the board (also elected as the chairman of the meeting) and a young man sent by the state. This creates an almost comical situation. Even the chairman couldn’t help smile once in a while. The chairman says: “Can the meeting approve of the agenda?” The young man from the state says: “Yes”. He’s the state, the meeting, the people. A company owned by us the people, channeled through this one person. It’s a very apparent case of the Leviathan (as in the state, and also as in all LKAB:s mines) being represented and translated by individuals (as in Alex Golub’s Leviathans at the gold mine, 2014).

Three keynotes are delivered, one by the chairman, one by the new CEO, and one by the Minister of Industry. With a special eye to Kiruna, our case, the chairman mentions the process of moving parts of Kiruna and about the company’s “extended role” (I interpret it as the company is not only a mining company, but also city planner and a construction company). The CEO also mentions Kiruna, but it has more to do with troubles with the works (one “bärring” had to be replaced) and with some of the shafts. This led to the value of the assets in Kiruna being written off with 7 billion Swedish crowns. It is also mentioned that given the troubles of getting the stone up from the Kiruna mine, the open pit iron ore mines in Svappavaara (about 60 km from Kiruna) will feed the Kiruna mine with goods, thereby being explicitly drawn into the labor process of the Kiruna mine.

Once the official meeting is over, there is no invitation for questions, but the head of communication interviews Charlotte Kalla on stage and two awards are handed out, one to a women floorball team in Kiruna/Pajala and one to an artist from Koskullskulle. They get 50000 Swedish crowns each. Then there are hors-d’œuvre and mingle time. I get to meet some old acquaintances.

Photos by Johan Sandström:

Iron Kiruna LKAB Music Nature Politician

Blast (gotta move)

“Blast (gotta move)” is a song about the anxiety of knowing what you have but not what you get, of trying to act collectively but faced with separate negotiations, with not knowing whether or not to afford what the market-conditions dictate, with up-rooting children if leaving Kiruna town is the only viable solution, about having to leave the beautiful scenery appearing outside the kitchen window, about the state withdrawing, leaving movement of a great part of a small town to the Company and to local politicians.

This story we have come across during interviews and the “analytical mood” of the song stems from Ferdinand Tönnies, a sociologist who at the end of 19th century studied the current transition of society. In his view, the tightly knitted community (where people stay together despite differences) is dying out, being replaced by the large scale society (in which people stay separate despite what connects them). Ferdinand Tönnies concepts Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft are classic but still important and useful today. Kiruna, it could be argued, is in the intersection of Gemeinschaft and Gesellshaft, but this time around the transformation occurring seems to have different traits, dynamics and stakes. We suspect that organizing rocks, the labour process and changing power relations, play an essential part in the ongoing struggle between “the forces” of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, and for the struggle of the citizens of Kiruna town. The detective work continues, but click on the audiofile below to listen to the song (you might have to reload the page in order for the file to show):

Blast (gotta move)

Music, lyrics, instruments and vocals: Tommy Jensen


Blasts in the past
Blasts in the future
Below tunnels are expanding
Aftershocks are widening

The city is moving
Were will I go?
Blast – gotta move

Every time they assess my
Value go down
We want to act together
They negotiate us separately

The city is moving
Were will I go?
Blast – gotta move

It takes more than one for a society
It takes mutual togetherness
Together yet apart
Separated by powers that be
Large scale society are here
Community we’re are you?

Staying in Kiruna?
A flat for a flat
Market in-between
Lonely I must compete

The city is moving
Were will I go?
Blast – gotta move

From: Lossavara and Kebnekaise
Chimneys and windmills
To: Death Valley
Trees and hills

The city is moving
Were will I go?
Blast – gotta move
Silently angry
Drinking helps
The state withdraws
Dumping all at The Company’s feet

Documentary Iron Kiruna LKAB Luleå Management Moviemaking Researcher Sweden Union Worker

Work and mining

A video interview on work and mining with professor Jan Johansson, Luleå, Sweden (11 minutes):

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.


Iron Kiruna Ronja Worker

Ronja IV

“Last Thursday I sat in the coffee room during a break and drank coffee, like any other Thursday. Suddenly, it sounds as if the mine is about to collapse.

During a fraction of a second I think about running for my life and I see that my colleagues think the same. But it seems as if the sound comes from the workshop outside, what is happening? Is the workshop still there? What about the workers in the shop? We are four persons running to the workshop and I think all of us were really scared, “are you alive?”, our manager asks, and thank God all of us are okay.

It was the mountain sagging, again.

A serious one, that is. On the Richter scale it reads 2,3 [LKAB later corrected it to 2,0], which classifies as an earth quake. Our private phones started to ring, our relatives were worried, apparently the whole town of Kiruna has been shaking…

We’re told that the mountain’s activity were not far from us, but many are still worried. There were parts in the mine that had collapsed, rocks big enough to smash a car had come down.

You’re questioning your work place again.

You start to investigate the cracks in the mountain, you listen for more sags.

Even if it feels bizarre, it is as if you’re challenging faith and you wonder if you’re actually taking part in a game of Russian roulette and when the trigger is pulled and you’re still alive, you draw a long sigh of relief.

/ Ronja”


“Satt förra torsdagen i fikarummet under rasten och drack kaffe precis som vilken annan torsdag som helst. Plötsligt låter det som att gruvan håller på att rasa ihop. En bråkdels sekund funderar jag på att resa mig upp å börja springa för livet och jag ser på mina kollegor att dom tänker desamma. Men det hörs som att ljudet kommer ifrån verkstaden utanför, vad är de som händer? Är verkstan kvar? Hur mår verkstadspersonalen? Vi är 4 st som springer ut på verkstan och jag tror att vi alla hade hjärtat i halsgropen, “lever ni?” Frågar våran chef utav personalen och tack gode Gud så mår alla bra.

Det var en sättning, igen.

En ordentlig sättning så att säga. På richterskalan står det 2.3, vilket kan klassas som ett jordskalv.
De personliga telefonerna börjar snart ringa hos oss, anhöriga ringer och är oroliga, hela Kiruna har tydligen skakat till…

Vi får veta att sättningen inte hade varit så långt ifrån oss men ändå så är många oroliga. Det hade rasat på en del ställen i gruvan också, kommit ner stenklumpar stora nog att mosa en bil.

Man börjar ifrågasätta sin arbetsplats åter igen.

Man börjar granska sprickorna i bergväggen, man lyssnar efter fler sättningar.

Även om det känns bisarrt så känns det som att man utmanar ödet och funderar om man inte egentligen spelar rysk roulette med sig själv och pustar ut varje gång avtryckarn går av men man fortfarande lever.


Iron LKAB Politician Supplier

Load up north

Load up north is an annual fair. What makes it a bit unique, the organizer states, is that the fair also targets recruitment, not only the exhibition of machines and tools.

We’re in Boden, Johan’s hometown, so he stops by the fair on August 27 and 28. He meets with a supplier we know very well by now, listens to keynotes arranged by Boden municipality, such as the ones by Peter Erkki and Tage Lundin from LKAB, Anders Sundström (chairman of the board for Swedbank and Kooperativa Förbundet), Inger Edlund Pedersen from Norrbotten Chamber of Commerce, Hans Wahlqvist from Mobilaris (providing solutions for how to track people and vehicles in the mine), and Johan Torgerstad from PON CAT (as in Caterpillar).

Peter Erkki, head of planning, South LKAB

The mining industry is the perhaps most salient industry during the fair, at least when judging from the equipment exhibited and how the ‘talk of the fair’ goes. Overall, there’s optimism regarding the future of the mining industry in the county, although the iron ore price is low and will most likely remain on this level for a while. This is how a company such as LKAB motivates the need to lower the cost for each tonne of iron ore. Peter Erkki talks about investments in the logistic chain to accomodate more large-scale transports by rail and boat. Head of purchasing, Tage Lundin, talks about the re-negotiating of contracts with suppliers and the establishment of a new supplier manual, all in the context of the need to cut costs for LKAB. Ears are tense in the audience.

On recruitment, there are several private staffing agencies as well as a local high school present at the fair (the keynote by Torgerstad addresses PON CAT’s cooperation with the high school), profiling how their operations addresses skills needed in the mining industry (the most common skill has to do with driving large vehicles). One of the largest suppliers to LKAB is BDX and this company even shares a showcase with the staffing agency Adecco in the indoor section of the fair. It becomes clear that these agencies are important to our project, seemingly playing an important part in the labor process in the Kiruna mine.

The perhaps most surprising showcase at the fair is the one shared by the public libraries in the county of Norrbotten. In the fair magazine, a librarian is quoted saying: “The idea behind having a showcase at a machine fair is to inform and show some of the library’s range in order to arouse interest and promote reading, particularly among men. [—] We hope to inspire more men to become reading role models.”

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Iron Kiruna LKAB Music


Iron Kiruna Worker

What is said underground stays…

Is there something special with the comradeship in labour processes in which members perform dangerous tasks, such as in underground mines? We believe so.

Ever since Henri Fayol’s famous book on mining and management (at that time called administration) from the early 20th century, the esprit de corps seems to be strong in mining companies. In those times the risks were, of course, higher (many examples from Karl Marx “Capital” are drawn from mining). But, is this valid today in the Kiruna mine, with fewer death accidents (over a decade since the last death accident), in an organization that emphasizes health and safety, and that are in the technological frontier to replace human hands with machines? With our scientific positioning (as narratologists), we cannot claim an objective, fact-based, answer to this, but we can listen and ask about stories told in the Kiruna mine.

From what we understand there seems to be a certain comradeship that resembles Fayol’s esprit the corpse. We take part in conversations revealing a certain kind of morale that enables workers to work for organizational goals (be efficient in getting the stones up to the works) despite harsh, back-breaking and sometimes rather dangerous work conditions. So we hear about how workers regularly take contact with each other over the com-radio to ensure that they are alright, or how they, after a seven-day shift, express their gratitude to each other for staying alive another week. We find ourselves taking part in conversations that reveal that underground mine workers have a – in their words – sense of belonging to a family (“a second family”).

There is also another, and in a sense a more intimate, story to be told. That of the kind of intimacy in conversations that workers seems to share with each others. They talk about things that are hard to talk about with family and spouses (that is, their primary family). A common story is sex in general, but sexual intimacy to partners in particular. But as one worker put it, this intimacy is, of course, not okay with everyone. Some workers keep a distance, but most of them seem to participate in intimate discussions – boys as well as girls, men and women. This kind of intimate discussions are commonly performed in collective settings, again over the com-radio.

We also hear about that work groups are asked to really consider what is okay to discuss over the com-radio. But it goes on, at least among workers sharing the same space, time and situations. So, not only is there a comradeship, or esprit de corpse, that enables workers with dangerous jobs to carry on to fulfill organizational goals, but there seems to be a spillover to the private sphere: Storytelling at work is important for workers’ private lives, that is outside work, and even encompass such intimate areas as sex and sexual relationships. We have a feeling that this also has to do with the harsh, back-breaking and rather dangerous work conditions, but also with the spatial fact that these people work underground. “What is said underground stays underground”, as one worker put it.

Iron Kiruna LKAB Researcher

Greetings from Kiruna!

Art Iron Kiruna LKAB Politician

Mineful art?

On the second floor of Kiruna’s city hall, there’s an exhibition by Kiruna’s association for art (Kiruna Konstgille). The exhibition consists of 100 t-shirts, designed by a variety of local artists (see the video further down, not by us!). The shirts predominantly address the changes that Kiruna is going through and some are relevant to the Kiruna mine and the labour process, or at least we think so. The second shirt below, for example, ranks different groups of people from one to eleven. First place: people who work for LKAB. Sixth place: girls [not women; it would’ve read “kvinnor” and not “tjejer”] who work for LKAB. Although we like to think that we can ‘encode’ some of these shirts, many of them also puzzle us. Isn’t art wonderful! One thing is clear, however: the art association is one part of the labour process periphery that we have to close in on.

Nomad city

Movement in Kirunavaara (the mountain where the Kiruna mine is)

Housing shortage

Ranking different groups in Kiruna

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