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No big celebration

The miners are reliefed, but there were no big celebration. Finn-Arne Rasmussen, Trond Olsen, Klaus Ryberg, Glenn Jøran Lindseth and Niklas Løseth are sitting around the table. Jim Rognmo, Guttorm Wilhelmsen and Svein J. Albrigtsen in the background. FOTO: Eirik Palm

No big celebration

There's relief, but no big celebration among the employees at Store Norske.



"People here have waited and waited, and asked what they are now contriving," says Svein J. Albrigtsen, a veteran Store Norske employee. "But that's politics."

Only 15 hours ago, the news came the government is recommending Store Norske receive 500 million kroner in assistance to help remedy a crisis at the coal company. Many say they were relived.

"Myself, I saw it on the news and I was happy on everyone's behalf that it is finally official," Albrigtsen says. Even though he had already heard at an extraordinary members' meeting of the Svalbard Labor Party that the recommendation would go right way.

In October it will be 30 years since he started working in the coal mines in Svalbard, during which he has been involved in many crises. This time it was still different, he says.

"Everyone has been going around and wondering if it is the end, if they are really going decide to shut down," he says. "It's the strong environmental forces and the debate in Parliament."

The shift is just beginning its the lunch break. They are currently working to prepare a new panel six kilometers inside Breinosa and their faces are black with coal dust. White teeth appear with smiles when Jim Rognmo enters with a tray of cake. He is 38 years old today today and now the uncertainty about whether there will be a job to go to has been swept away. It was a bit of a birthday present.

"It's good to relax a bit, lower your shoulders," says Rognmo, who has worked for Store Norske for six years as an electrician in the mine.

"We must send our thanks to Putin. I think the picture on Twitter built momentum for the case. The Russians have shown that they want something here," he says, referring to the infamous image of Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin in front of the polar bear the sign in Svalbard. Rogozin is on a list of persons banned from Norway due to their role in the annexation of the Crimean peninsula.

No party
There was jubilation in Longyearbyen when the recommended assistance for coal company became known, but in the mine it is a moderate celebration because many colleagues have been forced to leave since last November. Nearly 100 employees lost their jobs as a cost-saving measure.

'We will be glad, we who are left," Wilhelmsen says. "There are lots of people who were laid off."

What's that been like?

"No, it's not pleasant," he says. "You lose both friends and colleagues."
Wilhelmsen says he's been in regular contact with a number of those who were let go. Most have gotten new jobs, but not all.

"It's not easy to get a job down there either," he says, referring to the mainland.
Arild Olsen, the union steward for the miners, nods in agreement. On this Friday after the press conference he finds himself drinking coffee with guys.

"There are many who believe that there would be champagne and birthday cake, but there has been a vacuum," he says. "Now we have to roll up our sleeves, keep up the pressure and build on the positive aspects. There is no bed of roses and there are some who feel that they have not gotten changes to everyday life, that they have not done enough."

Translated by Mark Sabbatini

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