A common myth, sometimes even repeated by Icelanders, is that Iceland is a classless society. In a new video, Iceland’s union leaders point out this has never been true.
In the video, released by the Confederation of Icelandic Labour Unions (ASÍ), we see a Viking landing on Iceland’s shores, greeting his wealthy friends warmly. Nearby, two slaves watch the proceedings. (Yes, the Vikings practiced slavery.)
“There’s no one here to welcome us,” says one slave.
“Get that junk onto shore!,” the wealthy Viking yells to them, and walks away with his friends.
“I think this is ridiculously unfair,” one slave says to his friend. “We’ve rowed all the way from Norway. Can’t we take a small break?”
“Well, we are slaves, after all,” the friend replies.
“Still…,” the slave says back.
“Don’t let them work you like a slave,” the narrator says. “Know your rights.”
The video in question is a direct response to recent discussions that have arisen regarding the upcoming contract negotiations between Iceland’s largest unions and business leaders. Most recently, Guðrún Hafsteinsdóttir, the director of the Federation of Icelandic Industries, contended in a radio interview that worker demands for a living wage will result in mass firings, adding that one of the best things about living in Iceland is that it is a classless society.
This is a common refrain about Iceland, but is simply untrue. As Drífa Snædal, the president of ASÍ, pointed out in a recent column, “Some people enjoy so much wealth that they could buy an entire hospital, while those who create the wealth are reluctant to visit a doctor because it is too expensive for them.”
In fact, while the lowest income earners in Iceland make around 300,000 ISK per month, before taxes, the highest income earners averaged 26.3 million ISK per year, or just over 2 million ISK per month.
So the next time you hear someone saying that Iceland is classless, feel free to point out that this is not only completely untrue today; it has been untrue from the very beginnings of the country’s history.