Class struggle in the Arctic: Greenland in turmoil

Greenland is not renowned for its warm climate. Indeed, to the outside world it is generally regarded as a cold, ice-covered and isolated landmass, inhabited by a supposedly happy people who get on with their fishing and live in a beautiful environment. But recently things have been heating up in the country. We are referring to the class struggle, that is. The unskilled workers were recently on strike, a strike which ended with a victory for the workers. And now the nurses may be about to take the same road. This shows that the general crisis of world capitalism reaches every corner of the globe and the workers everywhere are reacting in a similar fashion, with a fightback against the bosses. Why is all this happening - and why in Greenland?

Greenland is in fact an old Danish colony - and it remains such, despite the concession of "self-determination" on some less important issues. Greenland is a part of the Danish commonwealth along with the Faroe Islands, and is deeply dependent on Denmark when it comes to trade and exports.

The present strike

The results of last year's elections were also a sign of growing discontent among the workers. Therefore a rise in the class struggle comes as no surprise. It was something to be expected. The owners of the main industries (namely the fishing industry) had taken a hard line position that they could not tolerate any rise in wages at all, believing that there would be no reaction on the part of the workers, as they have been used to a long period of relative tranquility on the trade union front. But something is changing in the mood of the Greenland workers. They are starting to believe in themselves, and they recently forced the union leadership to stand firmly on their demands (very modest demands, to say the least).

When the strike actually began and became a reality, the capitalists changed their tune. From what seemed a routine trade union negotiation they immediately turned to the use of force. They got the courts to hand out very large fines, and the police were sent to the picket lines to ensure that scabs could enter the factories. These developments have revealed the real class nature of the state to a lot of young workers, who must now be thinking about the role of the police. They are beginning to see them no longer just as agents of Danish imperialism, but as tools of the local bosses as well, among whom there are also individuals from the indigenous population.

The Marxists in Denmark have advocated that the Danish workers' movement must stand firmly in solidarity with their fellow workers in the North Atlantic. There were in fact solidarity actions but these were often isolated cases. However, in some key places like Copenhagen Airport, the workers did react and acted in solidarity. This was undoubtedly an important factor in the victory. The bosses did not want the militancy of the Greenland workers to infect the workers in Denmark.

The victory was very small from the economic point of view. But that is not the most important thing. The most important thing is that the workers have learnt an important lesson: together we can defeat the bosses! This is an example of the potential power of the class, and this will play an important role in Greenland in the coming period.

There will be a return to the militancy of the 1970s. The first strikes in Greenland took place in the 1970s at the minefields at Maarmorilik - "The Black Angel". The workers waged a courageous struggle against the poor living conditions forced on them by the German and Danish capitalists. There are several examples of the Greenland workers' great courage in the struggles in the 1970s, sometimes fighting in terrible conditions. For example, the mining company cut off the electricity supply to the workers when the temperature was minus 35 degrees centigrade! In spite of this, the workers kept on fighting, but in the end they suffered a terrible defeat. This was to affect the mood among the workers for a whole period of time.

"Self-determination" - a scandal

With the lack of any serious alternative, the majority of workers were lead to believe that the problem was simply Danish rule and that the solution was "independence". Needlessly to say, this "theory" was supported by all the ultra-left groups at the time. They did not feel the slightest need to explain how this kind of "independence", on a capitalist basis, would solve any of the fundamental problems facing the workers. But then it is not the ultra-left "theoreticians" sitting in their cafés who have had to suffer the consequences of this disastrous policy.

Living standards in Greenland have gone down for the majority of the people over the past 20 years or so. For example, an average family of two unskilled workers and two children suffered an 11 percent decrease in their standard of living in the period 1985-1998. This is sufficient evidence to prove that the slogan of "independence" and "self-determination", on a capitalist basis, could not really offer any way out. Greenland remains a small country dominated by the same old capitalists as before.

The gradual decline in living standards over a whole period created the conditions that explain the present strike. It also means future strikes are inevitable. Sooner or later, the working people will say: "enough is enough! We can no longer tolerate working hard every day, without any perspective of progress!"

Class unity!

What the middle class sectarians tend to forget is that there can be no real independence under capitalism, especially not for a small people like the Greenlanders. The economy is deeply dependent on foreign capital, especially Danish. If the masses of Greenland are to achieve any fundamental progress, it can only be in close collaboration and unity with the Danish and international working class.

The present strike is a lesson in working class unity in struggle, and especially in internationalism. It is doubtful whether the workers of Greenland would be in a position to shout victory today, if it had not been for the (even minor) intervention of the Danish workers' movement. The leadership of the unions in Denmark has tried to play down the role of the strike in Greenland, because they are concerned about the coming wage negotiations here. They are terrified of any precedent of militant class action that might influence the workers in Denmark. They try and hide any example of a victorious struggle in other countries. However there is one thing they cannot hide. Once the working class moves in a conscious manner, no force will be able to stop it.

The way forward for the working people of Greenland is through an alliance with working people in Denmark against all the bosses. And further to that they need to link up with the workers of other countries. Within the narrow confines of Greenland (and even Denmark itself) no long-lasting solution can be found. We live in the epoch of world economy. Our problems stem form the crisis of capitalism which is a world system. Therefore in the last analysis our problems can only be solved by linking up with our brothers and sisters all across Europe and beyond to the workers of the world. Greenland and Danish workers need to link up in a struggle for a socialist federation of the two countries, as part of a wider European socialist federation, based upon the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy and democratic planning of production, under workers' control.