Another Oslo is Possible!

Handing leaflets at communalist election campaign in Oslo 2007

We need a new Oslo! Democratic Alternative in Oslo assert that the politics today is run in an extremely top-down manner and as a consequence the market forces get more and more power and influence. The result is disheartening. The development of today’s Oslo is marked by increasing inequalities between the city’s richest residents and the rest, unbearable and inhumane housing costs, a commercialization of the public space and of the accelerating ecological problems.

Are you one of them who is tired of the present right wing government, but think that the other parties doesn’t represent any real alternative? We in Democratic Alternative share your perception. But we also think that it is possible to change the situation. We assert that the solution to the lack of power we all experience is found in democratizing the municipality and in taking back the control from the market forces.

We are standing in the elections to create another Oslo where it is the inhabitants who shape politics and the popularly elected who execute it – instead of politicians and market forces making decisions while the people have to passively bear the consequences. We believe that an Oslo that has participatory democracy, solidarity, inclusiveness, independence and sound ecology is possible. In this program we present concrete demands that can move Oslo in this direction.

Democracy Means Peoples Rule

The word democracy means peoples rule, but Democratic Alternative consider that the politics in Oslo does not look much like popular rule. It is not the great majority – but rather a small handful of semi-professional politicians, bureaucrats and lobbyists – that govern the municipality. Election campaigns have become a circus. People don’t believe anymore that politicians will keep their promises when they get onto the municipal council. More and more power in the municipality has been centralized away from the people and into to the hands of the municipal council. Which in turn has abdicated responsibility for their actions by giving it to the boroughs.

Democratic Alternative doesn’t believe in the claims of the political elite that everyone can participate through local “participation” or “user councils”. At best these forms of participation mean that we have the right to merely express ourselves about things we have interest in and, at worst, they give advice that the politicians and the bureaucracy easily ignore. We have had enough of being reduced to voters, consumers and taxpayers. We believe that another Oslo has to start with a new form of government in the Oslo municipality, where we as citizens have direct influence over the decisions that affect our own lives.

Democratic Alternative demands:

  • That city plans, borough plans and the budget (including the “Groruddalen-funds”) are decided upon in open popular assemblies in the boroughs. These people’s assemblies must have their own secretariats and able to choose their own delegates to the borough- and municipal levels.
  • That binding referendums are carried out in important matters as for example the “Bjorvika-expansion”.
  • That what today is called “user participation” is replaced by real user rule whenever it is possible.
  • That big investments are made in building “borough town halls” and similar meeting places in the boroughs that can support a political culture there.

Democratic Alternative’s goal is that the most important political, economical and social decisions in the municipality are made in popular assemblies in the neighbourhoods and in the boroughs, and that the elected representatives should administer and execute these decisions. These demands represent the first steps towards a polity of participatory democracy in Oslo. Democratic Alternative support all other demands and measures which move the municipality towards this goal.

Strengthen the Local Self-Government

In Norway we have a long tradition that decisions should be taken close to those affected by them. But local self-government is fading away. Today, Norway is one of the most centralized countries in Europe. The municipalities have minimal influence over how budget resources should be used, taxes collected, or how welfare, education and other municipal services should be organized. Even a city as big as Oslo has its hands tied by the state, and its laws made in Brussels or elsewhere.

In Oslo, the right-wing majority has for a long period sold enormously valuable public property and services to private investors. This extensive privatization and exposure to competition has, in reality, transferred control of central welfare services to market forces. Many healthcare services for the city’s inhabitants are today managed by the rules of profit and not primarily ethical demands and human respect. On top of this, private developers have been given the power to determine much of the city’s development – their economic power and contacts in City Hall has resulted in a situation where they build nearly as they wish, anywhere and anytime.

Real popular rule is impossible as long as the municipality doesn’t have the power over its own circumstances and instead is forced to implement the central government’s decisions. The steadily sinking turnout in elections and the lack of interest in local politics bear witness that more and more people realise this. Another Oslo is only possible if the municipality strengthens its position in relation to the state and takes back control from market forces.

Democratic Alternative demands:

  • That Oslo municipality demand a bigger part of the state’s revenues. The municipality must find out what resources are necessary to have a respectable welfare service, and reserve necessary tax revenues to sustain this.
  • That a property tax should be introduced on large private properties and business income and property.
  • That all privatization and exposure to competition must be stopped and welfare services that are privatized or exposed to competition must be taken back by the municipality and placed under popular control.
  • That an independent commission is established to scrutinize the connection between the planning and building office, the politicians and developers and propose measures to regain public control over the city’s development.
  • That Oslo municipality refuses to follow international treaties which violate the principles of democratic control over the economy and decent welfare services for all.

Democratic Alternative’s goal is a living and active local popular government – where power is flowing from the bottom-up in society instead of from the top-down, and where welfare and economic decisions are put under popular control. These demands should be the first steps in a process where Oslo joins other democratized municipalities to gradually take over more authority from the state and functions that today are governed by the market.

No Participation Without Equality

Oslo has become a harder city to live in. Just as market dynamics and globalisation have moved power even further away from the people, they are also transforming us all into commodities. You have to elbow others out of the way just to keep up. In this climate it is people who already have a hard time that are most badly affected. Many working people have lives that are marked by economic insecurity, cramped and expensive housing and unsocial working hours.

Economic growth in Oslo is sky-high, at the same time as the disparity between poor and rich is increasing. Women and immigrants with non-European backgrounds, especially, have lower income than others, and both immigrants and people with disabilities systematically get discriminated against in the labour market, the housing market and by public authorities. Under such conditions democracy can’t exist. Democratic Alternative believes in an Oslo of solidarity, where economic recourses are distributed according to need – giving people the time, security and energy to participate in political life, conditions that are necessary to achieve a real popular democracy.

Democratic Alternative demands:

  • That the housing market is price regulated and that more favourable housing loans are introduced for young people and single parents.
  • That a six hour working day is introduced with no loss of wages and workers in low wage professions in Oslo municipality get a substantial wage increase.
  • That crèches are established which are open in the evenings and free interpretation is available at political meetings.
  • That citizen commissions are established in the boroughs where private as well as public discrimination can be reported.
  • That a binding plan is developed to make Oslo universally accessible for disabled people.

Democratic Alternative’s long-term goal is a society where everyone is treated as having the same value irrespective of sex, age, ethnicity, sexual identity, and where the economy is based on cooperation and distribution rather than privatization of wealth and competition. These demands are the first steps on the path to a society based on solidarity. Democratic Alternative will support all other proposals which radically reduce inequality between poor and rich, and at the same time guarantee that ordinary citizens get control over economic resources. We will also work for rights that protect individuals against every form of discrimination and for mechanisms that make full participation by everyone possible by compensating for individual disadvantages.

An Ecological Future in Oslo

The ecological crisis is perhaps the biggest problem we are facing in today’s society. As the media have pointed out, many of the main ecological systems, which sustain life on earth, are heavily weakened. The threat of global climate change is the most pressing feature of the general ecological crisis, but we can’t solve this crisis without finding local solutions. Oslo has, with its enormous consumption of electricity, fossil fuels and noxious building materials, become a parasite on the natural resources it is depending on. In addition to this, air pollution is a serious problem, together with the huge amounts of waste, motor traffic and assaults on the city’s green spaces.

The most important cause of this crisis is the market’s relentless hunt for profits and the effect this has on our city life. The competition oriented society we are living in is breaking down traditions of cooperation and the will to seek common solutions. Even Oslo municipality is managed like a company where the main goal is the largest possible revenues and where efficiency is put above human needs. Today, most people are very troubled about this development, but feel powerless about solving the problem because power has been taken further and further away from them. But the solution to the environmental crisis requires action now and a critical turn-around in the development of society.

Democratic Alternative demands:

  • That a binding plan is made to reduce the consumption of electricity and fossil fuels in Oslo and for a comprehensive ecological shift in the development of society. The plan must rest upon participatory processes in the neighbourhoods.
  • A differentiated electricity charge. It should be cheaper to use little electricity and expensive to use a lot.
  • That Oslo municipality establishes a fund for reconstructing Oslo’s housing stock in line with ecological standards.
  • Extended and free public transport.

That ecological centres are established in the boroughs where expertise is made available for ordinary citizens, associations and municipal institutions.

Democratic Alternative’s long-term goal is an ecological society which creates a balance between the city and its natural surroundings. For an Oslo that is giving as much to the natural areas, which it is depending on, as it is taking from them. To reach this goal society has to be organised in a different way. Production and consumption must be planned with regard to human needs and the rest of the nature – not be subjected to the market’s need of infinite growth. In fact, the complete capitalist system has to be challenged, together with top heavy institutions that today are contributing to keeping control of society away from ordinary people.

We believe that an Oslo that has participatory democracy, solidarity, inclusiveness, independence and sound ecology, is possible. But this won’t happen by itself. Such an Oslo can’t be created by semi-professional politicians or bureaucrats, but must be won by a new popular movement that struggles for change. If you agree with the main points of this program, we ask you to vote for our list in the municipal election in Oslo 2007. However, we also have to create a movement which can fight for change between elections. You should therefore also read this as an invitation to become a part of creating such a movement and to keep in contact with us. Without you another Oslo is not possible!

Editorial Comment

This text was originally published as the electoral program of the communalist organization Demokratisk Alternativ in Oslo, Norway in 2007. Additional analysis and reflection of the program and the election campaign will follow on New Compass.