Historic Elections at Iceland’s Largest Labor Union Skip to content

Historic Elections at Iceland’s Largest Labor Union

Kristinn Örn Jóhannesson was elected chairman of the Commercial Workers Union (VR), Iceland’s largest labor union, yesterday, beating the sitting chairman Gunnar Páll Pálsson, who has been criticized for his connections with write-offs at Kaupthing.

Pálsson called for early elections because of the criticism, to which has was subjected.

Kaupthing’s headquarters in Reykjavík. Gunnar Páll Pálsson was a board member of the bank. Copyright: Icelandic Photo Agency.

“I have emphasized strengthening the role of VR to protect the interests of wage earners. The union has done well in obtaining and distributing information to members, but I have criticized the market salary policy. It works during expansion but not in a crisis,” Jóhannesson told Morgunbladid.

Jóhannesson received 41.9 percent of votes and Pálsson 28 percent, while the third candidate, Lúdvík Lúdvíksson, received 30 percent. It is really rare for someone new to take over as chairman of a labor union in such elections in Iceland.

“It is clear that the criticism I’ve been subject to after the collapse of the banks last fall was a significant factor [in the outcome of the elections] and my choice to shoulder responsibility and shorten my term in office delivered these results, so I will just have to accept it,” Pálsson said.

Jóhannesson said he will not accept the same wages as his predecessor, but rather base them on the average salary of executives in accordance with VR’s survey of salaries.

The new chairman added that it was a disappointment how few union members participated in the elections—only 27 percent. “I wanted to see more people participate. It shows that people have begun considering their old rights as a matter of course,” he said.

Jóhannesson will formally take office on April 2.

Click here to read more about the controversy surrounding Pálsson.

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