The Labour Movement

In 1885 a Danish carpenter, Sophus Pihl, presented himself to the workers of Bergen, urging them to organise and fight for their interests and rights. This event marked the introduction of the modern labour movement to the Bergen population. Whereas spontaneous protests were not unknown earlier, the new movement introduced several previously unheard of elements. Pihl knew the theories of Karl Marx, Louis Blanc and Ferdinand Lassalle, and introduced these thinkers to Norway.

We find some of the new thoughts spelled out in the address presented here, in all probability written by Sophus Pihl himself, but conveyed by a deputation of local workers. First of all there is a strong sense of justice, the workers are not asking for alms but are expecting the fulfilment of their rights, and a right to work is one of them. Then there is a theory of value production and distribution. It is no longer sufficient to say that some people are rich and others are (regrettably) poor. The new movement claims that some people are rich because the others are poor. The third factor is – hidden between the very polite phrases - a thinly veiled threat of disturbances and actions should the requests not be met. The fourth is the mention of solidarity as a goal for society.

The labour movement has developed from being an opposition movement into being the party in power in many countries, and has undergone a series of changes and diversification in different countries, socialism, social-democracy, anarchism, communism, the number of "isms" is great. Looking at the 19th century in retrospect, it is hard to see any other force more influential in shaping the nature and values of European society – and also of the rest of the world.


The document shown is a certified copy of the original address:

"To the Town Council of the Municipality of Bergen
At a public meeting for labourers that was held on Sunday, the 21st November of this year, we, the undersigned, were charged with conveying the following petition, adopted at the meeting, to the honourable Town Council of the Municipality of Bergen.

Because of the unemployment that has been present in our municipality for a long time now, and that would seem to be becoming more and more prevalent, we beg leave to approach the Town Council of the Municipality of Bergen with a request to take rapid and energetic measures to counteract this evil.

Many of our brothers are already suffering great destitution, and, for every day that passes, these unfortunate labourers increase in number to an insufferable degree.

We will not, at this moment, describe in more detail the misery already present in our municipality, but we would merely draw your attention to the fact that such unemployment and distress can cause the most sorrowful calamities that would grieve any right thinking person. Therefore, it must be incumbent on the leading citizens of our municipality to do what may be done to alleviate this want and in order to prevent possible violent reactions to which such unemployment and distress might lead.

The honourable Town Council might in answer to this plea reply that it does not possess the necessary means, and we shall therefore immediately bring to your notice that, while there may be a very large labouring population of little means, there are also many rich and wealthy citizens. And since it can hardly be refuted that these citizens are rich because the others are poor, so it can hardly be postulated that it would be unjust were the leading citizens of the municipality to impose an extraordinary tax on all those of greater means - for example, a tax on a progressive scale on all citizens with an annual income of 5,000 kroner or more.

Besides the commencement of public works, we believe it to be of the utmost necessity that the distribution of foodstuffs and fuel to those most in need, and especially those not already in receipt of public support, be initiated immediately.

We are convinced that, should this petition be granted, then not only will much sorrow and misery be alleviated, but there will be a growth of confidence, joy and hope among the labouring classes, that will raise our municipality to a level of solidarity greater than is normal for our times.

In the hope that the honourable Town Council will take this matter under consideration and reach a decision thereon as soon as possible, we await its response most respectfully.

Bergen, 21st November, 1886
S. Riise, Nordnæsveien 15
Spokesman for the deputation
Nils Monsen, Carl Hansen, Mons J. Myking, Johannes S. Osberg
In fidem
Theodor Blehr"

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(BBA: 651:D:394, 266a/1887, Photo GSJ)
(BBA: 651:D:394, 266a/1887, Photo GSJ)