Social partners' support for political parties in the election campaign

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Several political parties received financial support from the labour market parties for their September 1997 parliamentary election campaigns. While the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) has supported The Labour Party's election campaign, the Confederation of Norwegian Business and Industry (NHO) and the Norwegian Shipowners' Association have provided financial support to several of the conservative parties. Nonetheless, it is on the relationship between LO and the Labour Party which the media in particular has focused. The close ties between the two organisations go back to the establishment of LO, and encompass both formal and informal cooperation.

In connection with the Norwegian parliamentary election in September 1997 (NO9709125N), there has been a focus on the relationship between the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) and the Labour Party, with the conservative parties believing that the former has too great an influence over the latter's politics. The financial support from LO to the Labour Party's election campaign has also been criticised, despite the fact that the employers' side supports the right-wing parties within Norwegian politics and that several of the federations affiliated to LO also support the Socialist Left Party- a party to the left of the Labour Party. One explanatory factor for the degree of attention directed towards the relationship between the Labour Party and LO may be that the cooperation is more encompassing and formalised than what we otherwise find.

Financial support for political parties' campaigns

Both the employee and the employer organisations have contributed financially to the political parties' election campaigns. An overview which was published in the newspaper Aftenposten (on 7 August 1997) shows that the Labour Party received at total of NOK 10.2 million from LO and its affiliated federations. LO provided NOK 2.5 million in direct campaign support, while its affiliated federations in total provided Labour with NOK 4.2 million for electioneering. While LO itself has not supported other political parties, several of LO's affiliated federations have done so, with the Socialist Left Party receiving support. LO has also provided funds to a campaign in support of the sitting Prime Minister, as well as making staff available for this purpose.

The Confederation of Norwegian Business and Industry (NHO), the largest employers' confederation, has also provided financial support to the political parties which are deemed to be the most "employer-friendly". Although the Conservative Party received the most (NOK 4.3 million), NHO also supported the Christian Democratic Party- one of the three centre parties. In this year's election campaign, NHO was not willing to support the Progress Party, a party to the right of the Conservatives. However, this party received support from the Norwegian Shipowners' Association, which also supported the Conservatives and the Christian Democrats.

The sitting Government has proposed that all financial contributions to election campaigns of at least NOK 20,000 should be made public. According to the media, the only parties which do not support this proposal are the Conservative Party and the Progress Party.

LO-Labour cooperation

Traditionally in Norwegian politics there have been ties between several political parties and different economic interest organisations. It is, however, the relationship between the Labour Party and LO which is the most debated. LO has had close political ties to the Labour Party ever since the former was established in 1899. At that time, trade union activities were separated from party politics in the Labour Party, and hence LO was established. Since then, many formal and informal meeting points have developed between these two branches of the labour movement. The most central coordinating body between LO and the Labour Party is the "joint committee" where the heads of the two organisations meet. This committee meets weekly to discuss current issues of interest for both parties. Central figures in LO and its affiliated federations are also represented in the Labour Party's executive committee. Presently, LO's president and the heads of its largest federations (theUnited Federation of Trade Unions and theNorwegian Union of Municipal Employees), along with the head of LO's cartel for state employees, are represented on this committee. In most Labour Governments, it is not uncommon that some cabinet ministers or permanent secretaries come from LO or LO-affiliated federations.

Certain arrangements have, however, been discontinued during the 1990s. It is no longer possible to enrol trade union branches collectively into the Labour Party, and the Labour youth organisation is no longer synonymous with LO's.

Commentary

The close relationship between LO and the Labour Party has deep historic roots and is mainly regarded as beneficial by both parties. Nevertheless, the cooperation is regularly criticised from different quarters. The competing employee organisations emphasise that they are party-politically independent, a point they use actively when recruiting new members or previously independent federations. Further to this, they believe that LO's close ties with Labour have contributed to LO's dominating position in terms of political influence and participation in various public committees and advisory bodies.

Within LO, criticism against LO's relationship with Labour has also regularly been voiced, in particular from union representatives (shop stewards) with a political adherence to the left of the Labour Party. Many believe that the relationship with Labour is a recruitment problem for LO-affiliated federations, while at the same time LO is not independent enough with regards to the party's politics. One criticism is that the cooperation with Labour makes LO too "responsible" - when it comes to wage demands, for instance. Several of LO's affiliated federations have clauses in their constitution stating that they are party-neutral. Prior to the last LO congress (NO9705110F), its organisational structure was the subject of a wide debate within LO. In conjunction with this, a proposal was tabled to discontinue the close ties with the Labour Party. The majority did not support this proposal, but a quarter of the delegates voted in favour.

The relatively strong support for cooperation amongst the LO-affiliated federations may be explained by the emphasis which is placed on being able to influence political decisions. Centralised wage determination in Norway, along with the present system of cooperation over incomes policy and long periods with a Labour Government, are contributing factors to why the trade union movement still consider this cooperation as important. The Labour Party also seems content with its cooperation with LO. Apart from the discontinuation of collective membership in the party, a decision which probably was initiated by LO, no initiatives have been taken within the Labour Party to change its relationship to LO. (Kristine Nergaard, FAFO Institute for Applied Social Science)

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