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The History of LÍV

We trace our roots all the way to the 1950's, when Verzlunarmannafélag Reykjavíkur (VR), under the leadership of the then chairman of the association, Guðjón Einarsson, initiated the establishment of the Icelandic Commerce Federation or LÍV. Guðjón first put forward the idea in a speech he delivered on the shopkeepers' day off in 1950, and a little later a five-person preparatory committee was appointed within VR, which worked on the matter for several years. When Sverrir Hermannsson was hired as an employee of VR in 1956, preparations began with full force and LÍV's founding meeting was convened on June 1 and 2, 1957 in VR at Vonarstræti 4 in Reykjavik.

In the weeks before the founding meeting, VR fought its first significant wage struggle and had announced a strike from 12 midnight on the eve of June 3rd. However, agreements were reached on the morning of June 2 and were approved at a general meeting held in Iðnó on the same day. The agreements broke new ground in the history of VR and were, among other things, the first ones the company did with the Employers' Association of Iceland. The day 2 June is therefore considered a significant day in the history of trade and office workers' associations in Iceland.

Six associations of shop and office workers established LÍV. Associations in Reykjavík, Hafnarfjörður, Siglufjörður, Borgarnes, Rangárvalla county and Neskaupstað. At that time, it was considered incompatible to be both a member of ASÍ and LÍV. The unions in Rangárvalla county, in Selfoss and in Akureyri were ASÍ members, so there was some delay in becoming full members of LÍV. In addition, the employers at Neskaupstaður were still in the association and therefore had to be expelled from the association. The exact number of members in LÍV's founding associations is not known, but it is believed to have been around 1,200 people.

Sverrir Hermannsson was elected the first chairman of the association and Ásgeir Hallsson, Björn Þórhallsson, Gunnlaugur J. Briem and Reynir Eyjólfsson in the executive committee.

The struggle to join ASÍ

The main task of the new LÍV board was to facilitate the establishment of shopkeepers' associations throughout the country to join LÍV. LÍV grew through the establishment of new associations and the rapid growth of VR. However, it was a struggle to join The Icelandic Confederation of Labour (ASÍ). VR had tried but was refused so VR now asked LÍV to take up the fight and apply for membership. A three-member committee was appointed, which came to the conclusion after discussions with ASÍ's leaders, that due to organizational issues within ASÍ, it would not be advisable to apply at this time.

By the 2nd congress of LÍV in 1959, it was decided to try again, but at the 1960 ASÍ congress, LÍV was refused entry, mainly due to discussions about ASÍ organizational issues.

By 1955, VR had become a pure union so when LÍV asked for admission to ASÍ in 1960, there should have been no issues with joining. Therefore, LÍV believed it fulfilled requirements for entry to ASÍ. But there were fierce disputes about this. Hannibal Valdimarsson, the president of ASÍ at the time, Eðvarð Sigurðsson in th central commitee and Snorri Jónsson its director. This trio was by far the most powerful within ASÍ at the time and due to political issues were not friendly towards LÍV. Hence the application was rejected.

LÍV's board decided take ASÍ to court and appeal to the Icelandic Félagsmáladómstóll, which handles all maters related to labour market disputes. On November 12, 1962, the court ruled that ASÍ was obliged to grant LÍV admission. LÍV is now the largest association within ASÍ.

Fully authorized negotiation partner

From 1958 to 1959, LÍV started negotiations to join the Nordic Commerce Association (NS). The chairmen of LÍV and VR went to Sweden in February 1960 and met with the board of NS. The board of NS decided that LÍV should become a full member of the association from January 1, 1960. This recognition had enormous significance in LÍV's fight for admission to ASÍ. The established trade unions in the other Nordic countries had assessed LÍV as a valid labor union, after having made a detailed survey of the nature and purpose of LÍV. NS carefully followed all the progress of LÍV in its struggle to join ASÍ case and supported LÍV. LÍV's board had LÍV then joined FIET, the international commerce association, in 1970.

The pension fund, Lífeyrissjóður Verzlunarmanna, started operations in 1956. At first, fund members were exclusively from Reykjavík, but according to regulations, the fund has been authorized from the start to accept payment from members of other unions. LÍV became part of the unemployment insurance scheme on January 1, 1967, something our members had wanted since 1956.

LÍV became an authorized contracting party for all its member unions from 1960-1964. Since then, LÍV handles most of the unions, particularly the smaller ones. Larger unions, especially VR, negotiate independently, but often negotiate in co-operation with LÍV. LÍV's first strike was December 10, 1963 and lasted four days. The parties agreed, among other things, on the obligations of employeers to enrole employees in the unions within LÍV. Wage and education issues have historically been the key issues for LÍV as a trade union association, as well as a growing focus on international relations in a shrinking world.

Establishment of divisions

Wage issues were the key issue of LÍV in the years 1965-1972, and the result was influenced by the state of the Icelandic economy. Another was education, and resolutions were passed on educational issues at all LÍV meetings during this time frame.

By 1973, LÍV had 21 unions within its ranks and a total of 6.543 members. It had grown to 25 unions with a total of 14.053 members by 1989. From the very start of LÍV the aim was to include all those who worked within the commercial sector. This goal had not been achieved in 1989 as some stores were too small for staff to form a separate union. LÍV tried to remedy this in two ways, through the expansion of the geographical area served by the unions and by having commerce divisions established within non-commerce trade unions. FVSA in Akureyri expanded its membership area in the 1970s, and shopkeepers in other urban areas around Eyjafjörður then joined FVSA. The creation of divisions within trade unions for shopkeepers began in Snæfellsnes and Dalir in 1977, with other unions following in their wake.

A story of consensus and struggle

LÍV records show that VR has been considered to influential and in the 1990's there was an attempt to establish a counterweight association. However, during negotiations the unions have worked and today LÍV is fully united.

Between 1973 and 1996, LÍV would strike four times, in 1974, 1976, 1982 and 1988. In 1976, the strike would last for nine working days. The strike of 1988 went into the history books for its length. Commercial workers would strike for two weeks in the spring with the employers using every trick in their book to try to break the strike.

The influence of LÍV within ASÍ

Despite the controversies about LÍV's entry into ASÍ, cooperation has been good over the past decades, and LÍV has left a mark on the Icelandic trade union movement. The LÍV leadership have been prominent within ASÍ. LÍV became association within ASÍ to elect a female as chairman when they elected Ingibjörg R. Guðmundsdóttir was elected in 1989. She served as vice-president of ASÍ from 1992-2000 and again in 2003. Ingibjörg served as chairman of LÍV until her untimely passing away in 2010.

Stefanía Magnúsdóttir, LÍV's vice-chairman served as president until the 2011 congress of LÍV when Stefán Einarsson was elected. Stefán retired in May 2013 and Úlfhildur Rögnvaldsdóttir, would serve as president until the LÍV congress in October 2013. At the congress in 2013 Guðbrandur Einarsson was elected chairman of LÍV, but Guðbrandur was also the chairman of the Verslunarmannafélag Suðurnesja. Guðbrandur resigned in March 2019. Ragnar Þór Ingólfsson, chairman of VR and current president of LÍV took over the chairmanship of LÍV and was duly elected president at the congress in October 2019.