Unions in turmoil: Labour Day in the shadow of #MeToo

The Danish union movement has a lot hanging in the balance following the surprising demise of Lizette Risgaard

Following Fridays shocking #MeToo revelations, a dramatic and intense weekend with massive criticism followed and finally led to Lizette Risgaard annoucing her own resignation as head of FH trade union confederation on Sunday.

The case, based on Berlingske and Ekstra Bladet reports that the 62-year-old Risgaard behaved inappropriately towards younger men for a number of years, hit the media just ahead of today’s Labour Day and left the Danish trade union movement in chaos.

FH’s executive committee held an emergency meeting on Friday, which led to an external legal investigation being initiated.

READ ALSO: Union boss accused of inappropriate behaviour

Powerful woman
With about 1.3 million members spanning across 65 organisations, FH is the largest national trade union confederation in Denmark.

Risgaard, one of the most powerful women in Denmark and an ardent opponent of sexist culture in the workplace, initially announced that she could continue as head of the FH, despite the ongoing investigation.

Indeed, today on May 1 – the biggest day of the year for the Danish labour movement – she was set to give several key speeches, including in Fælledparken, which was slated to be her most notable of the day.

READ ALSO: #MeToo case shakes the trade union movement: Risgaard a “lame duck” ahead of Labour Day

Pressure too much
But several unions, including HK – Denmark’s second largest HK, which servives more than 215,000 members – announced that they no longer had confidence in Risgaard.

“Now I have spoken to my board, and they have very clearly expressed that HK can no longer trust Lizette Risgaard,” the head of HK, Anja C Jensen, said on Friday according to TV2.

She added that her inbox had been filled with experiences that were not described in the media throughout the day. 

“Experiences from elsewhere,” she said.

By Friday evening, Risgaard announced that she was going on leave.

READ ALSO: Responses to Denmark’s latest big #MeToo scandal range from disbelief to anger

The resignation
But that wasn’t going to cut it for HK and other key unions, which openly announced by Saturday that they no longer support Risgaard. 

Signe Færch, Head of Danish Social Counselor Association, in a press release said:

“We call on Lizette Risgaard to resign as head of FH.”

Later the FH executive committee held yet another emergency meeting on Saturday, and Risgaard finally announced her resignation on Sunday in an update on Facebook.

“It has been one of the most difficult decisions in my life,” she wrote.

Major union organisations such as FOA and 3F consequently supported her decision, arguing that it would have been too difficult to regain the level of credibility needed.

Not over yet
But even though Risgaard has stepped down, there are still questions to be answered. And the coming weeks and months will be an arduous slog for FH and the unions.

According DR the FH management confirms that it is aware of one case where a woman has observed Risgaard acting in an inappropriate manner.

That raises the questions: Who knew what? And if they knew, why didn’t anyone act?

READ ALSO: Accused #MeToo politician Jon Stephensen to take extended leave

A future in the balance
Risgaard was set to give several speeches, including her most notable address in Fælledparken.

Instead it will be left to HK stalwart Ditte Gottlieb Bredahl to pick up the pieces today.

And instead of talking about politics and how to improve workers’ rights, the focus will be on Risgaard and her shocking demise.

For now FH’s deputy head, Morten Skov Christiansen, will assume the reins of FH leadership.

But the lingering question of who will take charge and ultimately unite 65 unions, remains to be answered.