A tour through the history of the elevator constructors' union of Norway
- A brief history of solidarity
One for all, and all for one
This narration will take you through the full story of the first hundred years of national elevator industry - reflecting Norwegian labor history. Feel free to set up links or copy -please include source and do not distort by crosscutting sections. The author, being a constructor himself, proudly presents this story and hopes the reader may find source of inspiration and afterthought in and between the following lines.
The very beginning
The first elevator company in Norway was Wisbech, founded in 1891. Initially Wisbech co-operated with the Swedish Graham Brothers company (The two countries were in union at the time). Five years later they had their own shop producing elevators in Oslo, the capital. This booming decade to construction provided a strong foothold for Wisbech as the #1 company in Norway.
Up to the 1890's all elevator installations in Oslo were hydraulic, truly driven by the force of water pressure. 1897 marks a watershed (so to speak), from when elevators became driven by electric motors.
By 1934 there were 843 elevators running in Oslo, rising to 1896 in 1954, approx. 3800 (1974) and some 6400 (Oslo) and 25000 (country total) today.
The second major company Fortuna was founded in 1894, followed by Hjørnegaard (1921), Elektrisk Bureau (1927) to mention a few. The total number of companies operating at all times have ranged from 10 - 20. Recently, a dozen single-person companies have been established.
Today the two corporations Schindler and Kone dominates the industry adding up to some two thirds of the gross marked of the industry estim. 1 bill. NOK = 160 mill US$ (turnover). The annual increase of units would average 1000 during the last decade, a decade that (except for the slump of 1988-93) has been the golden age of the building industry, thanks to the gross revenues of the national oil industry. Presently there are approx. 600 occupational constructors, of whom 98% are organized in the HMF.
During the years, the fact that the constructors have been the true caretakers of the trade - in most aspects - including public safety, has been proven over and over again.
The future - will the oil boom do good to the common man?
The future prospects are very optimistic - economists suggests another decade or two of "Kuwait Economy" coming to Norway. The unemployment rate has decreased from 8 to only 4 %, the state accounts a surplus of US$ 7 bill., whereas the national account surplus was US $12 bill. last year. Others worry what lies in the future - particularly union leaders who daily monitor anti-union aggression in everyday work relations. With great national surpluses and national funds being deposited abroad (estim. future value US$ 60 bill. by 2001), many soothsayers predict a revival of the ghosts of inflation and subsequent close downs. If the working man accepts a worsening of work conditions and wage freeze (aka. Flexibility) - in a period of all-time highs at the stock market this will beyond a doubt create a negative outcome. According to official statistic surveys wages share of GNP had fallen from 53% (1988) to 48 % (1995). This reflects a relative wage decrease of 10 %. During the same period the companies operation profits had a relative increase of 14%. The gap between regular wage-earners and business owners is increasing - eroding community morals. The final outcome of the recent "gold rush" in Norway may become less pleasing to the average citizen, and especially to blue-collar workers. Substantial parts of the industrial substructures are completely gone thanks to rocketing inflation during the 70's and 80's - in the elevator industry as well. Only a very few elevator cars are manufactured here in Norway - other parts of the elevator are imported. The former flag ships of the national elevator industry have all been swallowed by multinational companies with headquarters outside of Norway - the last large company [Fortuna] was handed over in 1982. Generally the multinationals have decided to produce their goods in other countries. If this continues for another decade, speaking for the elevator industry, this will hurt local know-how of manufacture, high-quality maintenance, and on-site correction of equipment. And the workers job market specter is narrowing - pacing the factory shut downs.
Anyhow, the never-ending cost-cutting in the building industry has had it's effect on health, safety and environment. There is no room for the regular 8 hours work day, you're expected to "just get the job done". Health hazards occur more regularly - when people get strained - jumping safety precautions or simply forgetting to pay attention - when exhausted. Hazardous workplaces with little or no workforce to clean up the mess, typically also lack lockers, space for changing clothes or having meal breaks, and of course provides no showers and sometimes not even toilets ! Even though conditions like the above mentioned clearly conflicts labor legislation and contracts, some companies habitually test the limits all the time.
Usually when the constructors arrive, the conditions improve, as they're expected to refuse work at inferior sites.
Elevator inspection was established back in 1890's under the jurisdictions of the municipal authorities. One early accident report stems from 1906 - a worker from the elevator company Wisbech was crushed while attempting to jump off a runaway elevator plunging downward, he was hit by the car roof"....killed instantly." The story of elevator safety is long, much of it though, have been transferred into the works of national and international elevator codes and legislation. The number of accidents today are low, yet too high to be accepted. The chairman of the NEKF, Haugen (the electricians' federation, organizing the constructors) stated: (in an article printed 1935 following an elevator accident at Hotel Christiania)
" 1. The elevator inspector must require equipment to be fully and reliably tested prior to installation. 2. The elevator inspector and the city electricity board should make sure elevators are installed by fully trained elevator constructors only. 3. The elevator inspector must supervise elevator conductors, janitors and other non-professionals to prevent them from messing with the elevators mechanical parts or mechanisms."
Today roughly half the accidents nationwide include elevator workers, sometimes having been rushed by short delivery time. Fatal accidents averages to 0.5 yearly, personal injury to 6-8 (persons). Since 1987 most municipalities (423 of 435) have joined the national elevator inspection company, the NHK (Norsk Heiskontroll), a non-profit foundation employing some 20 inspectors throughout the country. To be an inspector you have to apply for license at the Supervising committee of the elevator industry every second year. Also you have to attend the annual safety update conference. In fact the NHK was established from a demand by the elevator workers union HMF (Heismontørenes Fagforening) in 1986. Hopefully, the employers and employees directly involved with safety within the industry will be able to bring the accident rate down to zero. Since early 90's the industry has been building a national elevator accident registry within the NHK. For elevator passenger riding safety - much depends on the evolution of the suitable legislation. Norway has joined the EU elevator standards system which is more like goal-seeking where standards are concerned, where national safety codes do not always coincide. The two standards called EN-81-1 (electrical elevators) and EN-81-2 (hydraulic elevators) - developed by the European Committee for Standardization - have been in force since 1987. Revision is due within 1997.
The Oslo municipal Elevator Inspection last year celebrated it's first centennial. The NHK will celebrate its first ten years in business this august.
Unfortunately the Swedish national inspection body - the SA - was abolished by the non-socialist government in 1995, and replaced by an inferior structure of privately held companies that lack access to the former centralized elevator registry. Thus a number of elevators have "missed out" and have not been inspected, leaving the proprietors only with the option to apply for temporary permission instead, in order to keep the elevator running. Reports suggest increasing accident rates, while the inspection charge's also climb.. A textbook example of the blessings of The Free Market.
The earliest attempts to build a trade union came in 1918 in Oslo. Ten workers from Wisbech and Fortuna companies formed a platform where common demands were estabished. Working conditions were bad, and wildly disorganized, their first strike led by Carlson- their first working agreement was a fact. This early attemptfell in line with other unions demanding an eight hour day and pay rise to compensate for increased living costs. The elevator constructor workers also had meetings with the Metal Workers Union and became affiliated with radical movements within labor, the latter insisting on collecting money for the famine-stricken Russia and supporting the anti-war campaign.
During 1928-29 it became obvious that the wage compensation would not be satisfactory as long as they belonged to the Metal Workers Special Trade agreement. During the autumn of 1930 the man-to-man argument culminated into the decision of withdrawal from the Metal Workers Union. The main argument was that elevator constructing mainly consisted of electrical work, thus requiring special elevator add-ons to the electricians trade. Therefore, it was said, the elevator construction workers belonged within the ranks of the electricians trade union as a subsection, submitting to their agreements. Once this platform had been agreed upon, the foundation of the Heismontørenes Fagforening, (HMF) was the next step. It was a fighting epoque for the labor movement not only in Norway but in many other countries as well.
The early years of HMF
The HMF (Elevator Construction Union) was founded Dec 5th 1930, at a time when the world crisis reached the shores of Norway. In 1931 85,000 workers were in a state of lock-out for a duration of five months in the biggest conflict ever in this country, forcing major cutbacks on wages. In addition to this there were internal fights in the Norwegian Federation of Trade Unions - having some similarity with the AFL - CIO struggle in the US. The elevator constructors and the electricians wanted to stay in the electricians federation, objecting against other union claims. The elevator construction workers had joined the Norsk Elektriker og Kraftstasjonsforbund (NEKF), the electricians federation. In January 1931 they became local #12, counting some 50 members.
The first meeting of HMF was held at the 26th of February 1931. Demands were presented in tune with the times. A seven-hour working day, mostly in order to fight the overwhelming unemployment rate (during the early 90's the constructors successfully built another solution to meet the challenge of unemployment - within their own ranks). Solidarity was the key word - share the work to be done and share the hardships of being unemployed. This was the beginning of a long battle against unfair treatment by employers within the industry. By April 9th the workers at Wisbech were in a state of lock-out. Only one week later they managed to organize elevator repair work under the control of the newly founded union (HMF). This model has been copied with great success may times later, adding good money to the strike fund. Support came from many directions, including the Swedish elevator construction workers in the name of solidarity with their Norwegian brothers. The Wisbech company, however, hired scabs which forced an end to the conflict on October 1st. The 18 elevator workers went back to work, nothing lost, and nothing gained. An interesting side-effect of the conflict was a definitive increase of union members, the ball was rolling.
During talks December 28th 1931 between NEKF and the national association of employers, the Norsk Arbeidsgiverforening (NAF), union representatives pressed for the same wages to the elevator workers at Hansen&Bjornerod as other members of the union. By the first week of January 1932, the employers agreed.
These early years of the HMF is a story of a union willing to fight above all for safe working conditions not only for the workers but also for the general public, one word stands out - soildarity. The first decade of the union's existence resulted in two large strikes in 1932 and 1937. More strikes were to follow in 1949, 1974, 1979, 1994 and finally the recent 1996 strike.
It is a fact beyound doubt that elevator workers are known throughout the Norwegian society as willing to stand up and take a conflict with both employers and authorities, if needed...
Victory through fight. Anyone who may have an interest in our history will come to know that solidarity is unbeatable as the #1 method for the working man.
The 1932 strike
The 1932 annual report of the NEKF stated: "The economic crisis is increasingly ill-natured and the unemployment is reaching ..new all-time heights. This is a picture of a society at war with itself and those who govern are not capable, or willing, to point out how to get out of this mess...We have an administration which by all means seek to load the burden upon the shoulders of the working man...[A government] that conceives new laws to imprison and silence the labor movement and the working class, but is unwilling to carry out measures to deal with the ever increasing numbers of unemployed."
These were the hard and direct words in a time of social chaos. The working man and woman were reaching out for their share of a better life.
The strike at Fortuna turned out to be one of the major events of the labor movement in 1932 in Norway. This was a year of crisis and called for new ways to go. LO (Landsorganisasjonen = The Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions) and the Labour Party presented a crisis program demanding "Work for the whole nation".
The elevator workers were still fighting to avoid being re-enrolled into the ranks of the Metal Union. The employers, on the other hand, made moves to resist the new HMF growing impact on the elevator industry, i.e. the new wages at the Fortuna elevator company. The company registered the Engineering Workshops' Association - the MVL.. Their aim was to force the workers to accept the wage-cut the Metal Union had been subjected to as a result of the 1931 Great Conflict. Another objective was of course to force the elevator workers back into the Meatl Union.
The workers didn't give in - they appealed to the industrial tribunal, which as usual, turned them down. Verdict was reached on March 29th 1932 giving Fortuna the right to affectuate the wagecut. The reply of the workers was to point out the unfavorable working conditions as compared to other building trades, and the fact that two other elevator companies, the Hansen&Bjoernerod and the Elektrisk Bureau, had already accepted the electricians' agreement - . In short, they rejected the wage-cut and walked out on April 23rd as an immediate response to the first payday with the reduced wage.
Keeping in mind the unemployment situation in the country, and the 1927 anti-union revision of legislation, a strike at the time was more very risky - the effects could not be anticipated. The employers were also aware of these facts and rushed to the industrial tribunal. The workers' lawyer was Viggo Hansteen..(later to become a well-known union leader and hero - executed by German occupation forces in Norway 1941), unfortunately lost the battle against the employers. This time the verdict was even harder - back to work with the wage-cut, pay court costs. The elevator workers blankly refused the demands.
Police headquarters were handed a note requesting law enforcement on the "illegal" strike. The Fortuna conflict was one of the most publicly discussed and interest peaked when the government made it an issue at their convention. The young HMF, tiny as it was (60 members), was determined to continue to strike at Fortuna. Eventually, informal negotiations led to an agreement giving the workers a rise in pay and their own agreement outside the Metal Union, but not within the Electricians' Union. The strike ended July 18th and all further prosecution was brought to a halt. The union, HMF, hade won a victory and shown ability to navigate in rough seas, the employers of the elevator industry had learned to respect the rights of the HMF.
The wage paid to the elevator workers were lower at Fortuna and also at Wisbech, as compared to the wages paid to the electricians under the NEKF - agreement. The annual nationwide meeting held by NEKF approved the elevator construction workers as a special trade within the federation. The seeds were sown for further conflicts..
The famous 7 months of "wildcat" strike - a fight for equal pay
The victory of 1932 had to be confirmed and re-inforced. In 1935 the first Basic Agreement between LO and the employers was formed. The Labor Party had two cabinet ministers from LO. The young HMF union was only partly acknowledged within the ranks of the labor movement, confrontation was inevitable. The working force within elevators had now grown to 94, 87 of them were members of HMF. "Equal pay for equal work" became the slogan of '37 - this slogan would reappear 59 years later - in the 1996 strike.
Thirtyseven was a strange year - the electricians went on strike, the elevator workers went on sympathy strike from June 16 to October 12th. The elevator workers sub-position state and not yet part of the NEKF as were the elctricians. The employers still regarded elevator elevator workers as Metal workers and offered only a prolonged agreement with a very slight increase of pay. Ten days later they went on strike, this time to gain higher wages and fight for their rights, their wages were still less than those of the electricians. The elevator workers were very dissatisfied, to say the least, with their national counterpart organization - today called the NHO (Confederation of Norwegian business & Industry). From the very beginning the elevator workers had struggled and stumbled in their fight to be recognized as a group within the family of electrical trades. The long-lasting arrogance and provocations of NHO and the employers welded the elevator workers together into a tight, willing to fight, willing to stand up for their rights organization - solidarity in practice.
Their solidarity was put to the ultimate test - the strike was condemned and illegal. NEKF was forced by the Basic Agreement to urge the elevator workers to end the strike. As expected the industrial tribunal announced their verdict November 23rd in favor of the employers. The workers were told to get back to work, the issue of court costs was to be dealt with later.
Meanwhile, the HMF had taken their own "wartime" measures and set up shop. They managed to increase their strike fund, and they were not exactly eager to get back to work. The conflict grew in strength.
The police brought the workers in for interrogation, they were also threatened with a fine and imprisonment. Dark clouds were indeed forming on the horizon.
NEKF was forced by NHO (their counterpart) to expel members of the HMF from their organization, and to top it off, they agreed to let other workers take the place of striking workers. This however was easier said than done, others were unwilling to go against their fellow workers...
The HMF, the elevator workers, turned out be tougher than anticipated by the employers. They had in time gained popular support from many others in Norway. During a break in a court meeting, a new agreement was drafted.. It included 1) Equal pay 2) A new piecework contract 3) Wage increase of 7,5% ..and en end of prosecution and expulsion - these were the essential points.
The new agreement was respectable indeed - in 1937. The employers defeat drew the attention of many, especially the newspapers, who openly criticized them of flabiness, cowardice, and weakness. The worst part was that the elevator workers had alledgedly won their struggle by ignoring labor legislation and using illegal methods.
One should bear in mind that the workers [naturally] did not accept the anti-union legislation. It was perhaps the sign of the times - best expressed by the well-known communist poet Rudolf Nilsen's poem - "Righteousness through law, the way to victory - simply is the only way".
When German troops landed in the spring of 1940, the following five years of occupation brought about a break in the hard and bitter labor disputes in the elevator industry. Trade unions throughout the country organized illegal committees for underground activities. Illegal union newspapers were published, also many trade union members were involved in direct industrial sabotage ie. blowing up factories. Even employers worked sometimes hand-in-hand with union members occasionally against a common enemy. Some were arrested, some fled to Sweden, others lost their lives - for example, Viggo Hansteen and Rolf Wickstrøm).
After the war, the labor movement played a leading part in building up the Norwegian welfare state. Most people attained a higher standard of living and security. The industrial expansion required a stable and reliable supply of electricity, transport, goods, and a reliable workforce. The number of industrial workers increased, as well as the urban population .Thie meant young people desperately looking for a place to live in the cities. This brought about a period of construction never before seen in Norway. Large apartment houses of all sizes and shapes created allmenn lucrative market for elevators, the need was there, it only needed to be met. During the 60's to the late 80's the shortage of labor became apparent, the employers described it as a "crisis".The answer turned out to be the employment of apprentices. An agreement from 1963 limits the number of apprentices to 60% of the total working force within the elevator industry.
Strike of 1949 - a fight for senority benefits
Strike broke out this year and lasted from June 23rd to October 23rd, it ended with victory for the elevator workers. The strike was led by Harry Hansen, leader of HMF 1940-58 - a very able man, who just celebrated his 91st birthday still going strong. The elevator workers had now grown to approximately 100 men. The dispute over age increment and other seniority benefits. Again the old practice of setting up their own shop to give service to the general public was put into use. The HMF elevator company "Heise-Service" once again played a major role in providing funds to finance the strike, when the shop was shut down, surplus money was distributed to members who had been on strike. The agreement of '49 is still in effect, with a little more "fat" though, than the original 5 øre per hour extra pay for those having worked 10-15 years, 10 øre for 15-20 and 15 øre for 20 years and up !(1 øre = 1/7 cent). The following 25 years elapsed more smoothly than the first 19.
Elevator Riding Safety
and the protection of the trade
- issuing closed shop
Since 1935 the apprentices had to work for 5 years in order to present themselves before a licensing test. In 1938 the first Certificate of competence was issued and later on licensing committees was formed throughout the country. From 1951 this practice was founded on the new Norwegian Act of apprenticeship. Since 1947 the municipal elevator safety by-laws of Oslo stated no groups other than elevator constructors would be allowed to work on elevator installations. In 1965 the government adopted a resolution stating electrical work on elevators be the sole domain of the constructors. However, the mechanical part of the job was left out until the 1975 revision.
No wonder the constructors pressed the issue. In 1957 a janitor was found dead in the pit - having tried to fix the elevator. Just a couple of years later another janitor was killed, crushed between car and top of the shaft. Later on, yet another janitor shunted the door contact while driving the elevator up from bottom floor. Moving into the pit he was surprised by the elevator car, coming downwards. He was hurt badly and suffered head injuries, but saved his life. Reason: He forgot to remove the shunt...Another janitor had his foot squeezed in a similar accident.
Then there was the so called flap lock mechanism. It was a faulty and insidious piece of engineering, allowing people to open the doors without the elevator being there. Again, the HMF had to work for measures to get these locks rebuilt for proper function. Not until the constructors illegally closed down elevators did the inspectors react - and ordered them rebuilt.
The constructors have been, and still are, and will continue to be, the true experts of the trade. Why shouldn't they be exclusively in charge of installation and maintenance of elevators, to secure public safety and safety at work ? In the cities they did in fact control work, but outside the urban regions there was a lot of work done by others, mainly by electricians (without elevator training) and the ever so eager janitors. Also, some companies hired foreign workforce. This is the layout leading the HMF to commence action for full control and legal protection of the trade. After the '65 government resolution, the worst part still was a point of dispute. There would never be a closed shop without the mechanical part.
Radicalization and the 1974 strike
Meanwhile, steady economical growth provided the stage of 1968. The Norwegian offspring of the famous student riot in most western campuses also touched the elevator industry. Many students gave up their career plans altogether to join the workers in the struggle for a better society. Some of them set fire to the hearts of the young breed in the industry. The whole population discussed politics during the European Union campaign - would Norway join the EEC? When the referendum thriller-like ended with a No to membership of the European Union, we had the 1974 Spring coming to the labor movement. The radical fraction grew in strength, vigorous and youthful as it was, attracting more people than true left. From '74 and up the HMF has been regarded as a member of the left-wing fraction of labor. The union decided to move forward on the closed shop issue and claimed the mechanical part of constructing to be included in the exclusive rights within the trade. After mandatory negotiations, the HMF went on strike August 27th 1974. 80 constructors out of 220 participated in this conflict that was very well organized. An exceptional event during the strike was the appeal held by the late constructor and union board member Leif Johannessen at the Norwegian Students' Society meeting October 12th, rising support and collecting money from the students - a memorable highlight of the "red" 70's. Even though the HMF had been promised a revision of the legislation in their favor, the strike meeting of September 29th decided to keep on until all claims had been approved. The constructors' popularity was peaking - and the NHO threatened to lock-out 90.000 workers in the steel industry, construction and electrical trades - unless the elevator constructors and switchboard assemblers called off their strike (400 strikers). This statement ignited support sit-downs, overtime negation and unions demanding the LO to announce a general strike. The constructors felt comfortable in the middle of an overwhelming support. They were surfing on top of a rising working class, and knew. The newspapers brought daily reports on the evolution of the strike - they were in the middle of the spotlight. The country held it's breath while the striker's meeting voted over the final agreement. 100 against, 105 in favor. Even though most claims had been approved of, the constructors had become aware of their capabilities. The voting reflected ambitions in a moment of time when the constructors were on the verge of starting something beyond their own realm. This moment of opportunity passed...and the split between radical fractions and the others slowly emerged. Not everyone had planned to start or even participate in a revolt.
Guarding closed shop: strike of 1979 to stop violations
Following a number of illegally erected elevators, the HMF decided it had to protect the newly-won closed shop. The Danish company Lifton was granted exception to install a number of elevators using Danish constructors only, by-passing the competence decision requiring a Norwegian license. The administration played hide-and-seek with the HMF, promising to comply over and over just to grant another exception. The HMF started clandestine investigation collecting proof for a court trial. The union stressed they would not oppose foreign workforce - given licensing test, Norwegian employer - and agreement. The test would be a simplified 3-hours test plus one complete installation. Having tried four years to settle the issue through talks, "illegal" strike was effective October 30th 1979 in support of closed shop, a withdrawal of exceptions for the Danes, the company Lifton to be shut out of the trade, and finally, their latest elevator up in Northern Norway to be dismantled. The strike was called off November 17th having received massive support and US$ 13.000 in contributions, main claim approved: future foreign workers would have to pass the test. The strike was deemed illegal by the industrial tribunal and the constructors' fine of US$ 43.000 was attempted collected. Rumors say the companies finally paid the fine.
Wages out of control
The constructors' wages was averaging the building trades up till 1974. Since then, the lack of workforce, a strong trade union and construction boom (85-88) forced a jump unheard of before. Typically a 20 - 25 % jump annually in the mid - 80's. The union actually never went on strike to press wages. The bargaining committees managed to close deals with automatic adjustments. The tariff rates would reflect each other in an upward spiral, ie. the service wage biannually adjusted to 98% of the trade's all-hours average - which then again was pushed upwards by local company deals giving add-ons to the official union-based service wage... This arrangement was far too good to be accepted by the community. The trade was subjected to increasingly spiteful media harassment, and many constructors were downhearted. After all, the constructors of the 70's had in many ways been a kind of "Wcorking Class Heroes" - now they were left to the harsh 80's picturing them as annoying warts on back of society. The deal was called off in 1988, but not given away for free. The constructors traded it in for an in-service training center deal, securing all constructors a full week of day-time training annually. This reflected a long-time union claim to cope with evolution of elevator technology. The constructors provide 50% of the operating costs of the center through a fixed hourly deduction. Since '88 there has been a stop in wage increase. Compared to the best year (1987), the constructors wage has lost 14% to inflation. Today servicing elevators will be paid approx. US$ 22-25 hourly while construction in some cases still may be piecework paid up to US$ 28. Tax deductions are roughly 1/3 of gross income.
Depression and the anti-HMF campaign
This leads us up to the 1990 crisis. Even though the constructors had curtailed their wage increases, some parts of the public still were not satisfied. The story of the HMF was dangerous, it set a public example of a union's victorious fight. So when the crisis set ashore in '88 the peace was broken. The public opinion was set to fight the now "greedy and almighty" constructors. This campaign was figured out, initiated and led by a few editors of daily papers (ie. the business newspaper Dagens Næringsliv), a couple of non-socialist politicians and some major contractors - and is still going on. While other workers were suffering from "measures to increase the competing ability", ie. unemployment and wage freeze, not unlike most western societies, the constructors was fighting for an agreement of " sharing the work, and sharing time laid-off " instead of dismissed when abundant number of workers, which occurred in 1990. The Norwegian Otis subsidiary was just about finishing up the newly built Aker Brygge, when the management figured out that they would be out of work during 1990 and gave notice. The shop-stewards argued they would rather balance overtime hours from Aker Brygge and then dividing the work, every man taking his turn of being laid-off for a period. Following unsuccessful negotiations, the constructors walked out in the spring of '90. After a few weeks strike the company surprisingly closed down. Their portfolio was bought by Ameco, a middle-sized Norwegian-based elevator company. In a thriller-like follow-up, the combined efforts of the striking constructors, the shop-stewards at Ameco, and the HMF succeeded in getting all the constructors back in business - at Ameco.
However, the anti-HMF campaign grew from a gentle breeze to full gale force during the strike and in following months. The constructors at Otis were harassed and the issue of the constructors power was raised at the national assembly. There was extensive allegations in the press and the union never got a chance to fight back via the media. " The story of the constructors is a textbook on how to choke your counterpart ". " The constructors represent the extreme point of insanity in this country ". Following articles and interviews tended to support the first accusation. Responding to the media, a rush committee was set up by the non-socialist government, in a hurry - to revise the conditions of competition in the elevator trade. The political agenda was obvious. The committee's problem was how to cope with the fact that the constructors during more than 50 years had been the caretakers of public safety - a well established public opinion, even embedded in the legislation. To avoid uncomfortable debate within the committee, professional expertise was kept out (oh, sorry, I forgot to mention an engineer that had been working as a ship's electrician, he was "The Expert", well known to hold negative opinions on the HMF), leaving room for politicians, law school-boys as well to finish this dirty job. When the farce was over, they -surprisingly- concluded that other than abolishing the constructors exclusive rights, no further steps was necessary to ensure competition. Following a change of government during autumn, when committee work was finished, the most persistent union buster, the minister Kristin Clemet, found herself out of work. However, she stated that she would follow-up on the constructors. Her successors from the Labor party did - de facto - complete the job. Another top gun was the managing director of NELFO, the association of the electrical contractors, eager to enter the elevator business to his members, stated: " If we educate our skilled workers, they can handle the mechanical part of installing elevators. Thus the competition would be restored...the elevator agreement is by far too good to be adopted in our family.. " and continued " What we also want is that those who seize power, the way the constructors have, must not be seen as heroes among their own. These things also has an ethical side...good forces will produce results.. ". The campaign was very well marshaled, but again, the constructors saw it coming. A persistent work made more than 250 unions officially support our press release.
'94: Losing closed shop
Following the change of government, a new committee was drafted in '91, of course, with extended mandate to overlook the educational requirements of all electrical trades. This time, the NEKF was let in. During a hearing in '92 the HMF protested in vain. May 11th '93 our old friend - the editor of Dagens Næringsliv - happily printed "The elevator constructors beaten.. the Minister of Labor Gunnar Berge from the Labor Party will put an end to the elevator constructors' exclusive right to install elevators.. ". oh, I almost forgot to quote the another fellow, director Olav Magnussen of the NHO, at the October 15th issue of NHO's own weekly paper (Næringslivets Ukeavis): " As Hitler once said about Soviet: Once you kick down the door, the whole rotten building falls apart The same thing will happen to the elevator constructors. They will probably fall down to the level of the electricians or even vanish as a group ". The article announced a new approach. From now on the NHO procedure would be to sue the HMF for costs and losses on illegal actions. Does this remind you of the 30's ?? Did they ever sue us ? Of course - they claimed a compensation of 737.000 norwegian crowns (US$ 105.000). And of course the NHO won - in court (the industrial tribunal). This time the constructors actually started paying off the bill.
Introducing solidarity to the burdens of unemployment
Meanwhile, the constructors was suffering from rapidly growing unemployment. The situation was threatening - the fight over exclusitivity was still going on, the media still negative, the constructors tired over years of fights, and then - adding demoralizing unemployment. In this grave hour, the HMF managed to bring in solidarity with the unemployed by the means of two independent schemes. First it established a new fund, the solidarity fund. The fund would be financed by an hourly deduction and supported those who were out of work. This way, a lot of people managed to get through the hard times of the early 90's, being unemployed. High interest rates and bad timing of a necessary tax reform - that made a lot of people slaves to their own debt. Many constructors bought their own houses during the 80's when market was peaking. The fund helped those who lost their jobs or were laid off. Secondly, several local unions at different companies negotiated their own deals concerning the work situation. Like the Otis workers, they would introduce a new agreement that would send folks home in turn, equally sharing the burdens of unemployment, also known as the rolling lay-off deal. Of course, this would take away a lot of the fear and pressure the workers felt during the hard times. The employers opportunity to squeeze labor would be weakened. So, when the deals had been signed, ie. at Schindler in September '92, it didn't take long until the NHO acted. A few weeks later they expelled the Schindler company. This reflected allmenn deep and widening split between different parts of the NHO. The elevator companies, being specialized shops, needed a stable and able workforce, and wanted to tend it. Others wanted to slaughter the deal, and junk the industry on the graveyard of history.
1994: Lay-off agreement fortified after short strike
At the start of tariff negotiations the employers claimed reductions of constructors rights in the elevator agreement. They knew they would provoke a strike. They changed their mind after ten days of strike, giving up their claims and approving a new appendix on rolling lay-offs. Also notified compensation claims was withdrawn and a deal was set up stating that the constructors would "pay back" the losses working overtime hours - with full payment...The NHO shifted tactics, now trying to beat the HMF by a "smart move". Their law-school boys set up a trap, and unilaterally decided that the elevator agreement no longer could be regarded as the unique agreement for work on elevators. They did not even bother to discuss this with the labor counterpart. Now there already had been one electrical contractor setting up elevators since 1994, Gunnar Myhre, in Oslo. He used electricians and others to install, maintain and service elevators. Their inferior pay certainly was not in accordance to the HMF tariff.
1996: Back to the 30's: Forced strike for equal pay
In short, the outcome of the licensing issue would be that the walls between the different trades more or less have been torn down. The official personal license is no longer mandatory, as long as the government agency has approved the company to be responsible of carrying out electrical work. An old joke of mine, that my mother would be able to run an elevator company, has almost come true, thanks to the present liberal policy of the agency. Almost any person capable to do electrical works may do it on an elevator. As a guest worker stated: "It is much easier to become a one-man elevator contractor (over-night) than to become a licensed elevator constructor (4,5 years)". This introduced the double set of standards, leaving customers to choose for themselves what kind of safety they want on the elevator. The problem is they had no insight, so they would purchase the cheapest alternative. There is no mandatory requirements as to the level of skills present in the workforce of any elevator supplier. So the Market is truly left to decide for itself. The HMF stated that safety is at stake. What would be the reason of codes and safety standards when the people in charge of the hands-on work wouldn't be required to (certified for) having proper qualification and training ?
So the HMF decided they would respond in the following manner: Claim equal pay for equal work in 1996 tariff negotiations. Almost everybody in Norway support this claim, public opinion sees this as a justifiable right. Of course, this was like public cursing to the NHO, who instructed their elevator contractor bargaining committee not to sign, even though they nearly had, already. The electricians had started strike June 10th claiming a fixed annual week-long in-service training and a rolling lay-off agreement (like the HMF agreement appendixes). The electricians' strike was a huge one, and overshadowed the HMF strike starting June 17th. During the strike, the NHO several times had to announce their point of view to the confused public. What was this all about ? - "The elevator agreement simply is too good, in almost every field. It offers a sky-high income to the constructors" claimed director Berge of the NHO, gambling with low public sympathy for the elevator folks cause. However, the NHO had a losing hand - increasing support to the HMF emerged at strike committee rallies, stands, man-to-man talks, newspaper reader's columns and even more and more journalists took stand for the constructors, at least by not painting them black. The small industry fight turned out to become a major labor issue. If the constructors lost, the whole idea of bargaining collective agreements was at stake, threatening the future of all unions, and in the long run, all wage-earners. The NHO had not foreseen this. They were even caught contradicting themselves - having had the opposite positions in two other conflicts at the North Sea and at a travel bureau. Now the NHO management found top bosses of leading Labor Unions supporting the HMF, the union they had used so much energy to isolate and fight down. August 23rd they approved HMF claims. Monday 26th they had changed their minds, or something, and refused to sign up. So the strike continued 'till it had lasted 108 days, or 14 weeks. The HMF then accepted to get back to work on a compromise, that secured the HMF agreement prerogative over others with a few, confined exceptions.
The story of the 1996 strike again showed the community that the constructors could fight an overwhelming opponent. The NHO had little honor left, trying to push their zealous fight far past the morals of society.
This concludes the story of the Norwegian Elevator Constructors.
The chairmen of the Heismontørenes Fagforening through the years:
1931 - 32 O. Hille
1932 - 33 S. Holm
1933 - 34 K. Fredrikson
1934 - 36 S. Holm
1937 - 37 E. Petterson
1937 - 38 A. Norlander
1938 - 39 Ø. Christensen
1939 - 39 Th. Nystrøm
1940 - 58 Harry Hansen
1958 - 60 Ole Skog
1960 - 67 Reidar Braathen
1967 - 71 Ole Skog
1971 - 72 Bjørn Skog
1972 - 74 Rolf Galgerud
1974 - 76 Bjørn Pedersen
1976 - 76 Kåre Sanden
1976 - 83 Terje Skog
1983 - 84 Fritjof Johanson
1984 - 86 Øyvind Larsen
1986 - 89 Terje Skog
1989 - 92 John Walderhaug
1992 - 96 Per Arne Salo
1996 - 00 Terje Skog
2000 - 02 Robert Ellingsen
2002 - 10 Rune Larsen
2010 - Per Arne Salo