Category Archives: Activists

1941: Viggo Hasteen and Rolf Wickstrom, for the Milk Strike

On September 10, 1941, the German authorities occupying Norway martyred two labor activists.

The Third Reich occupied Norway in the spring of 1940, adding their puppet ruler’s surname to the world’s lexicon.


Rations queue in Oslo, 1941.

Besides the obvious consequences — national humiliation, political executions — the occupation brought terrible economic hardship to ordinary Norwegians. Most of Norway’s western-facing trading relationships were severed by the wartime takeover, and the lion’s share of national output was appropriated by Berlin. Norway’s GDP fell by nearly half during the war years.

“There was a real risk of famine,” Wikipedia advises us. “Many, if not most, Norwegians started growing their own crops and keeping their own livestock. City parks were divided among inhabitants, who grew potatoes, cabbage, and other hardy vegetables. People kept pigs, rabbits, chicken and other poultry in their houses and out-buildings. Fishing and hunting became more widespread.”

And people got more and more pissed off.

On September 8, shipyard workers protesting the withdrawal of their milk rations triggered a large, but brief, labor disturbance. The Milk Strike was violently quashed by September 10 with a declaration of martial law in Oslo and nearby Aker and the arrests of a number of labor leaders, five of whom were condemned to death.

Two of those five sentences were actually carried out:* those of lawyer and Communist Viggo Hansteen (English Wikipedia entry | Norwegian), and labor activist Rolf Wickstrom (English | Norwegian).

They’re honored today in Oslo with a monumental joint tombstone and a memorial.

* Generous commutations awarded to Ludvik Buland and Harry Vestli permitted them to die in prison before the war was out. Their comrade Josef Larsson survived the war and chaired the Norwegian Union of Iron and Metalworkers until 1958.

1952: Mustafa Khamis and Muhammad al-Baqri, Egyptian labor activists

On this date in 1952, Egypt’s revolutionary military government sent a gallows warning to the labor movement.

The towering political of the whole Arab world until his death in 1970, Gamal Abdel Nasser led a coup that toppled Egypt’s monarchy just weeks prior to the execution we mark here. (On July 23, 1952; it’s known for that reason as the July 23 Revolution.)

They had bold plans for their countrymen, these young officers: egalitarian land reform, pan-Arabism, release from the hated grip of colonialism.

But don’t mistake that for an invitation to present just any grievance.

the Free Officers were not willing to tolerate a militant, independent trade union movement. The armed forces and workers clashed in Kafr al-Dawwar, 15 miles south of Alexandria. On August 12 and 13, 1952, the 9,000 workers at the Misr Fine Spinning and Weaving Company conducted a strike and demonstration seeking a freely elected union (a pro-company, yellow union had been established in 1943), removal of several managers considered particularly abusive, and the satisfaction of economic demands. Despite the workers’ proclaimed support for the new regime, the army quickly intervened to crush them. A rapidly convened military tribunal convicted 13 workers. Eleven received prison sentences; Mustafa Khamis and Muhammad al-Baqri were sentenced to death and executed on September 7. (Source)

Nasserite Egypt quashed independent labor organizing in these early years, eventually banning all union activity outside of the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation.