The LO Summer Patrol has been fostering the growth of young workers for nearly four decades.
The Patrol is organised by the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO). It’s an annual youth-led program which aims to connect with and empower young employees across the country.
As part of the Welsh delegation, we had the privilege of participating in this experience. We witnessed the impact of trade unions on Norway's young workforce, often during the first few weeks of employment during the summer period.
Our journey began with a warm welcome in Bergen, where we joined the LO Summer Patrol for their daily de-brief and reporting session. In the evening, we attended a pizza and panel discussion. We shared insights into the state of young workers and the UK Government’s anti trade unions legislation.
Social Partnership is a new model for Wales. But the industrial relations model in Norway known as tripartism has been implemented for over 100 years. The focus on Wales enabled us to set the tone for the rest of the trip. We ended the evening with a clear understanding that there were differences between our nations but also common strengths and struggles.
On the first day of our involvement in the LO Summer Patrol, we received a briefing on the program's history and objectives. We ventured into various workplaces across Bergen in pairs.
We conducted anonymous surveys to map out trends and identify workplace issues. LO prides itself in the fact that the patrol as often being the first interaction young workers will have with a trade union. It therefore aims to make the patrol, and those participating in it, as approachable as possible.
During our visit, we were honored to meet the Deputy Mayor and Mayor of Bergen, both under 30. This encounter highlighted the progress Norway has made in empowering young leaders to hold significant positions in society.
Our journey took us to Odda, an industrial region where we joined the traveling patrol and split up to visit different parts of the area. I had the opportunity to visit the Boliden Zinc Factory. It’s currently undergoing a multi-billion-pound expansion to double zinc productivity by 2026. During interviews with young workers, we learned about the site's aspirations to become the greenest factory in the world. It's hoping to achieve this largely through a transition and integration of automation and AI.
Within a presentation given by a union representative, we share concerns about the role of AI within workplaces across the UK. And we discussed how the transition in Boliden is taking worker voice into consideration.
We heard about how social partnership works in practice. Here was an example where education and re-training for workers’, unions and employers was at the heart of this transition.
From the outset, there was an understanding that AI would be used to mitigate high risk roles. But workers in those fields would be retrained to navigate the digital sphere. Unions were encouraged to seek independent advice about the impacts of AI on workers. And employers were also given training on the impacts to understand the transition from the worker perspective.
The significance to being in Odda for our Welsh delegates was highlighted by our conversations with locals. They were able to describe how the Hydro Power Plant there provided the local steel plants energy to then be shipped to our coal mines here in the UK. We were told that the British owners of the plant even used a well-known British tactic of providing workers with gardens on their homes to avoid them becoming too organised in their workplace. Despite this, Odda is renowned for it's collectivism and known for being one of the most unionised regions in the country.
Throughout our Norwegian journey, we observed the effectiveness of the LO’s approach in empowering young workers:
1.Office Structure: LO has a wide variety of employees who oversee different groups associated with young workers. This enables a comprehensive representation of students, apprentices, blue-collar, and white-collar workers. And it avoids young workers being homogenised into one category.
2.Youth Secretaries: Regional youth secretaries serve two-year terms. They are bought out, or seconded, from their employers if elected to regional secretary positions. This means that there is a dedicated focus on the needs of young workers and a political steer on campaigning.
3. Legal Battles: The LO took on a ground-breaking case, fighting landlords who withheld students' deposit money. This gained them widespread support from the student community.
4. Engaging Politicians: Young trade unionists lead on yearly campaigns. They invite a cross-party group of politicians to meet young workers from specific industries, promoting dialogue and social partnership.
The LO Summer Patrol was an example of how young workers and activists play a leading role in union activity. Young workers are leading on social partnership, grassroot mobilisation and future proofing the union movement in Norway. There are a lot of things to learn from and be hopeful for on our return to Wales.
Like Wales TUC, LO fosters a culture of empowerment and education. There is a higher density of union membership in Norway. This, and context of industrial relations, means that the "youth wing" of the trade union movement was not solely based around engaging membership. Instead, they can create a space within the industrial and political sphere that empowers the youth voice. This voice is well heard in society.
As we return to Wales, we carry with us valuable insights into Norway's progressive approach. They inspire us to embrace the change brought about by social partnership, and work to create a more inclusive and supportive environment for all workers, enabling them to thrive and grow in the ever-evolving world of work.
We want to create a network of young workers in Wales who are members of trade unions. The network will provide solidarity, safe spaces and an opportunity to work with other trade unionists.
Our next event is a development session for young activists on 28 September. The session aims to look at the findings of the trial we held in South Wales over the summer, and develop our approach to participate in another outreach session during the Christmas period.
It is open to all young activists in Wales as well as trade union reps and officials.