Luleå Biennial 2018

Interview with Ove Haarala, from the book “The Art of the Strike”
Ingela Johansson

Excerpt from the book The Art of the Strike: Voices on political and cultural labour during and after the miners’ strike, 1969–70 by Ingela Johansson, Glänta Förlag, Gothenburg, 2013.

Ove Haarala, former miner and member of the strike committee, in conversation with Ingela Johansson.

Malmberget, 2010.

IJ: Can you tell me about your upbringing and your career as a miner?

OH: I was an errand boy at LKAB here in Malmberget. Then I went to the mining school, a good school, the first educational programme that LKAB had. In my family, where I grew up, my brother got to go to school, and I had to work – that was just how things were. My little sister was a latecomer. My father never worked in a mine, he was a builder. And since became the Ombudsman for The Swedish Building Workers' Union in 1956 or 1957, my interest in the trade came second. My political interest, I suppose, was there to an extent. But in 1957 I went to a festival in Moscow with young people from all over the world. That really stirred my interest, and made me among the first to try to break with the old communist party. I encountered an incredible amount of opposition in my Youth Federation. I was a member of DU, Democratic Youth. There were a lot of conflicts there. That's why I calmed down politically and started working with the unions instead. I was a secretary in the mining board for many years.

I started working as a miner after the recruit in Kiruna. That was in 1960 – from then on, I was underground for 39 years. The best workplace in the world. Absolutely wonderful. You longed to go to work - vacation was the worst thing I knew. To be digging in the sand somewhere abroad would drive me mad. It was the job, the mining maps and the camaraderie that made me like it. I only worked four months above ground, they were the most terrible months of my life. I didn’t think the jargon and the conversation was the same as what I had experienced underground. I've been a part of such a fantastic development underground, from using hand-held carbide lamps to battery-powered lighting attached to the mining helmet.

IJ: There’s a strong political engagement up here in the ore field at Malmberget. Why its that?

OH: Historically, I think it has to do with the feudal system. I grew up in Koskullskulle. That mine was owned by Germans. Germans, Austrians and Czechoslovakians scattered all over the place after the First World War and passed power back and forth between them. I think it is a remnant of the feudal system that we all had to be united against the employer regardless of political opinion. Koskullskulle was a particularly strong communist stronghold with a strong union. I was not a member of it, since it disappeared before I started working. The mining chief was very strong - even though social democrats and communists always argued and fought. In the past, when crisis really erupted, we would only have one opponent, the one who fucked us over all the time... That kind of solidarity was especially present underground. There, you have to protect each other, even if you mostly worked on a contract. It did not matter - you have to help each other all the time, otherwise you’d get yourself killed. That made for a nice community.

IJ: The community that you describe can be experienced today through documentation. I’ve seen Lars Westman and Lena Ewert’s documentary Comrades, the opponent is well-organised…

OH: I had a lot of luck with Lasse Westman and Lena Ewert. Perhaps it was because Lasse and I got along well, and Lena and I, too. I borrowed Lasse’s Pentax camera, and photographed a little where Lasse didn’t have access, he was not allowed in everywhere. I was lucky enough to end up in the small negotiation delegation, the one that met LKAB first, together with Kurt Nordgren, the second chairman of The Swedish Trade Union Confederation. I was one of the few underground workers in the Strike Committee. There weren’t really so many underground workers in the Strike Committee. Actually, it was not miners who were in the majority in the Strike Committee, neither in Kiruna nor in Malmberget.

IJ: What do you mean, the miners were not the majority in the committee?

OH: Most of them worked above ground.

IJ: Was that a significant division?

OH: Yes, it was, even if the industrial principle from 1963 meant that we all went under the same professional title. Previously, the Electricians’ Federation and the Transport Association were involved in LKAB. We became miners in 1963~1964 and had the trade union in Grängesberg. I have to say, I enjoyed my time at LKAB, except when I was above ground.