ASÍ’s emphases for the 2021 parliamentary elections
“There is plenty to share” is a phrase that most Icelanders know, and tend to use whenever a guest arrives at the door. Guests are invited to enjoy food and drink, and told: “enjoy, there is plenty to share”. The underlying meaning is: “go ahead and have some, we want to share what we have with you”.
Even when you think there might not be enough, everyone else will just have a little bit less, so that everyone gets something.
After all, Icelandic society at the start of the 21st century is more prosperous than ever before. We live in a country that is rich in resources – both natural and human resources. With determination and the right decisions, we can all enjoy decent living standards.
No problem, there is plenty to share.
With the parliamentary elections approaching, it is important to think about who will have a seat in the next parliament. We must elect representatives that can be entrusted with the public’s interests, representatives that have the knowledge, will and ability to handle the aftermath of the COVID crisis.
The almost 135,000 members make The Icelandic Confederation of Labour (ASÍ) the biggest mass movement in Iceland. The political parties cannot ignore the issues that are most important for this group. Voters hold the highest power in Icelandic society; the power to decide which individuals take a seat in the parliament. In the elections run-up, it must be made very clear to our future representatives, that the Icelandic people want a society that is sustainable, equal, and just. The public must put their votes to use, and we must vote with our rights. An active democracy is the best way to fight injustice and to increase equality.
Mobilise democracy – vote with your rights.
What kind of society do we want after COVID?
Since the start of the pandemic, ASÍ has presented a clear vision of how to respond to the immediate economic crisis, and how to ensure that today’s actions guide the way to a sustainable future. Just as the international labour movement and most international organisations, ASÍ has emphasised the following prioritisation: first, to save lives; second, to guarantee people’s income; and third, to support companies. Some of the government’s measures have been in line with proposals made by ASÍ, especially those regarding changes to the unemployment insurance system, new education measures, creation of jobs, and other labour market measures. On the other hand, ASÍ has pointed out that some of the measures have been too general, and we have called for extensive, but targeted measures, for the regions and groups most severely impacted by this crisis.
Our vision is a diverse and sustainable economy, where workers have access to full employment for a fair wage, and where the country’s resources are used to benefit all of society. Pensioners and disabled people should be ensured a decent income, and children and young people should be provided a healthy and meaningful environment to grow and develop in. Icelandic society needs to adjust to the changed composition of its people.
Basic education, welfare and health services should be free of charge and accessible to everyone. This will enable Iceland to deal with climate change, and prepare for new technology and changes to the way we live and work.
From pandemic to prosperity.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) agree: Protect people’s incomes through the COVID crisis. A little more than a decade ago, international institutions advised countries to cut down welfare and sell state property, but today, they have all abandoned this ideology that left people and countries suffering. Austerity has slowed down economic recovery, and created inequality and poverty. We should learn from experience, let go of austerity measures, and keep households from bleeding out in the COVID-19 aftermath.
Protecting people’s income will prevent long-term financial problems, and help keep up purchasing power, which is the key to economic recovery. Icelandic society, with its natural and human resources, is strong enough to take the hit and mitigate it. There is no need make cuts in our welfare systems, or to raise taxes and fees on those with little to spare. The best way to protect people’s income is to provide secure employment, a robust welfare system and strong safety net. Now is also the time to improve the conditions of the lowest-paid workers, and to let go of reductions in the public insurance system; these are investments that will be returned many times over to society. With unprecedented unemployment levels, we cannot just wait for the tourism sector to recover. Employment will be one of these elections’ big issues.
ASÍ calls for a clear vision from the political parties on how to protect income, on employment and actions to help the regions and groups that have been impacted most severely in the current crisis.
The right way out of a crisis is to protect the income of people and homes.
From Ísafjörður to Egilsstaðir, Akureyri to Reykjavík, it is the same story everywhere: We need more housing, and real estate prices and renting prices are too high. Young people, those who are able to, are living with their parents for longer, and many are not able to pass the threshold that exists between renting and owning a home. The advantage of owning a home, compared to renting, is growing, and being poor is becoming more and more expensive. The need for housing is, and was, predictable. It should not come as a surprise to the authorities, every time, how many apartments are needed. This is one of the 21st century biggest political challenge, and it is also one of the most important issues for workers. Wage increases are of little use it they go directly into higher mortgage payments or excessive rent payments.
People should not have to worry about crushing housing cost at the start of each month, that should be part of gone-by history. Secure, affordable housing relieves stress off workers, and gives them time and room for a more equal division of family responsibilities, more education and opportunities, and more meaningful lives. The labour movement has made an effort to improve the housing situation, but at the same time, a strong vision is missing from the authorities.
ASÍ demands that all political parties running for parliament present a plan on how to improve the housing situation.
Secure housing is a basic human right.
Our healthcare system has not yet recovered from the budget cuts after the 2008 financial crisis, and the long period of neoliberalism and austerity. Nobody should be surprised by the fact that people get sick, physically and mentally, that people grow old, and that children are born. This applies to all regions in Iceland, and the need for healthcare service, childbirth service, and service for the elderly, does not go away just because service is reduced and moved away. The number of spots needed in nursing homes is easy to predict, and yet, there is a massive and lasting shortage. Although travelling and accommodation reimbursement has been raised, it still does not meet the need that was created when regional services were decreased. People living in certain regions have to pay considerably more for healthcare service compared to others. It can be considered a special tax levied on people living in certain regions, and it must be stopped immediately.
The healthcare system is a basic service that we all have a right to, as well as being one of the biggest workplaces in Iceland. Cutbacks, also called “streamlining”, in healthcare, is a threat to people’s health and basic rights, as well as being a threat to workers’ job-safety, pay and conditions. The call for streamlining in healthcare must not be allowed to grow, or it could end up being very costly for individuals as well as society.
ASÍ supports efforts to lower patient out-of-pocket payments, and that some control is gained over the funds flowing to specialist doctors alone. ASÍ will never accept further cuts to the healthcare budget. ASÍ will never accept reducing salary costs by outsourcing jobs, and by making the lowest-paid workers run faster for less pay.
ASÍ calls for the political parties’ healthcare policy – a policy that covers all regions.
Healthcare should be strengthened, not weakened.
Education and just transition
The cornerstone of a country’s welfare is good, public education from preschool to primary school, and through secondary school and university for those who want. The formal school system, however, is not the beginning and end of education. Continuing education is the key to a strong economy, and a guiding light in times of innovation and technological change. New sectors and jobs will come to exist, while others will disappear.
Workers demand a fair share of the value created by changes in the world of work. That is what just transition is about. New technology leads to cheaper production and services, and this should deliver better working conditions and a shorter workweek. Those whose jobs cease to exist should always get opportunities to new education or knowledge, while keeping their income. Special attention must be paid to those with little formal education, people who have not completed secondary school, foreign workers, and people with reduced work capacity.
A strong school system, in which academic education and technical education are equally valued, and continuing education is closely knit with the formal school system, is the key to a just future.
ASÍ calls for a clear policy from the political parties on education in relation to changes in the labour market.
Education is power.
The distribution of wealth in the world is almost as unequal today as it was at its worst in the 19th century. Wealth inequality is harmful for all of society. Long-term inequality leads to less production of wealth, less quality of life, and at worst, social unrest. The stock market’s formulas are far from capturing the real valuables in life, for example, viable temperatures on Earth, and a healthy atmosphere.
In Iceland, the richest 5% of people own around 40% of net assets in the country, and new wealth disproportionally goes into the pockets of the rich. The unjust structure of our tax system increases inequality as the rich are able to pay a smaller percentage into public funds. Historically, crises have increased inequality. Steps must therefore be taken to fight inequality, and that will be one of the most important challenges of a new government, and a new parliament. Equal societies are the world's strongest societies. A just public finance policy is the most powerful tool that authorities have to increase equality. A just public finance policy includes: a progressive tax system, strong supervisory bodies, using the country’s resources in a way that benefits everyone, strong, free-of-charge public infrastructures, and strong public insurance systems.
ASÍ demands that the political parties explain how they will work towards more equality, and how they will ensure that this crisis does not increase inequality.
An equal society is a strong society.
In the 105 years that have passed since ASÍ was established, Icelandic society has gone through immense changes, and living standards have certainly improved since the first decade of the 20th century. These improvements were not gained without a fight. Today, just like back then, ASÍ fights for decent wages, affordable housing, and that everyone enjoys the right to rest, to free time, and a safety net when something comes up.
On 25 September, we vote for a new parliament. ASÍ demands that all parties running for parliament present a clear vision and policies for the issues most important for workers, and for people in general: income, healthcare, housing, education, and equality. We reject the notion that Icelandic society is too poor to operate a decent society.