Speech by Hans-Christian Gabrielsen, LO, on Tripartism: Part of the same future

Mr. General Director, Minister, Dear Delegates!

Thank you very much for taking your time to come to our seminar today. And especially to you, Mr. Ryder, who had the idea for this seminar in the first place.

What accounts for the fact that the Nordic countries score better than most other Western countries when it comes to economic development, reasononable distrubution of wealth, labour relations and employment?

There isn't one answer to this question. There are many – but the established social dialogue and tripartism between policy makers, unions and employers organizations is an important factor to our success.

The renowned American economist Joseph Stiglitz claim that high levels of trust and strong social safety nets, like we have in the Scandinavian countries, promote innovation because the risk of failing is perceived as much smaller.

There are significant social benefits for countries with strong labour rights and a more extensive collective bargaining system.

Income inequality is less extreme, civic engagement is higher, there are more extensive social programs such as health care and pensions plans, and the incidence of poverty is significantly smaller.


For more than 100 years we have managed to make Norwegian unions and employers to conform to a model of collective industrial relations, with long traditions of central-level bargaining and with a firmly established practice of bipartite and tripartite cooperation.

At the same time, the local unions and their representatives at the workplace level play a key role in wage formation and exercise of the right to co-determination at company level.

But it's not all about wages. Our cooperation extends further than that.

Strong institutions have laid the basis for coordination between different policy fields in which cooperation between the social partners and the political authorities has played a central role.

As a result of relatively equal power relations and high trust between the players, crises and conflicts in working life and politics have often been tackled through broad compromise.

This «conflict partnership» between organizations and parties, is a key to understanding the historical evolution of the Nordic model.

To further understand it we must go back to the early 1900s when the leaders of LO and NHO opposed a suggestion from the then liberal government on forced arbitration to resolve labour disputes.

Because it meddled with the unions right to strike, and the employers right to use lock out.

The dispute ended with the liberal government establishing the Labour Court of Norway, in 1915, is a special court for resolving labour disputes – laying the ground work for Norwegian labour realtions for the next century.

A structure that still exists, and is respected by the social partners today.


But it didn't stop with the Labour Court. It developed further. In 1935 we got the Basic Agreement between LO and NHO, after years of crippling strikes hit the Norwegian labour market in the 1920s and 1930s.

It laid the basis for a new era of coalition and cooperation. It also represented the conclusion of a process which enabled the unions to negotiate from a position of strength.

It was a class compromise, which was also mirrored on the political scene.

There have been many tests along the way. Obviously we haven't managed to stay out of conflicts – there have been many strikes. There have been crises.

The financial crisis of the early 1990s proved that a institutionalized partnership like the one we have in Norway formed the basis for a way out of times of crisis.

Norway was crippeled by a banking crisis resulting in high unemployment.

In 1992 a strategy of wage moderation was institutionalized through the report of the Employment Commission in 1992.

It was dubbed the Solidarity Alternative.

This policy was based on three elements:

1. Wage moderation

2. An active labor market policy

3. A fair wage distribution       

The main aim of the Solidarity Alternative was to battle unemployment and attempt to restore full employment.

This income policy cooperation was a great success in that respect. Within a few years Norway reached this goal, resulting in a rather steep increase in the number of jobs within the manufacturing industries.

All three architects behind the “Solidarity Alternative” benefited from this solidarity agreement. The state, as the responsible actor for macro-economic management, and NHO received moderate wage demands. LO gained full employment.

And now we have new challenges to adress. Just imagine the profound changes that digitalization will have on our society. It will require a new set of skills for many workers.

How we tackle these challenges will have consequences for the labour market for years to come.


This way of facilitating major reforms have proved sustainable, and made us able to push through major reforms such as cooperation for better pension schemes, a Cooperation Agreement on a More Inclusive Working Life for reduced sickness absence, and joint suggestions for Norwegian climate policy.

We work together on pension policy and labour market reforms. Yes, sometimes we disagree. Sometimes changes are made without our approval. But all in all, the three partners are in this together.

How have we managed to maintain this model? It is all about cooperation, mutual trust and respect for each other and for the system we have build together.

We have predictable relations, a willingness to find a solution, a large degree of trust and strong relations between local and central trade unions and employer organizations.

We have institutionalized cooperation – on a national level and on the local level. There is a tradition for a close  relationship between leaders and union representatives.

And there is a tradition for a tight dialogue between organizations and politicians.


Trust is important. It is efficient. It spells fewer and simpler contracts, less expensive lawyers and less red tape.

We have trust, not only between the unions and employers, but also in the civil service and – you might not believe it – in politicians.

And we – and I think I can speak for Mr. Oppegård and Mrs. Haugli here as well – have a great amount of trust in each other. We have our differences, believe me, but in the end we know that we are in this together.

Just because we have a long standing tradition for constructive tripartite dialogue in Norway doesn't mean that it will be like that forever.

It is important to remember that a good relationship between the participants in the Norwegian labour market depends on three constructive parties.

It is a relationship that needs to be maintained through constructive and binding decisions and agreements. Where the governments, unions and employers do their part.

But most important from my point of view is a government that has a coherent policy on unionization. Tripartism without strong unions will never be balanced.

That is why social dumping is one of the greatest challenges facing the Norwegian labour market today, which in its turn leads to a less unionized labour market if its not met with the right measures. 

When bogus employment gets to dominate in parts of the labour market, when lower wages is the only standard and when unions are being challenged, then we all lose. Not only the employees but the employers and the authorities, and finally the society as a whole.

Norwegian labour realtions, work life and public policy is the sum of what we manage to do together.

Because we need work together for a better society.  We are three parties of the same future.

Thank you for your attention!