The Melting Pot of Democracy

Up from the ruins of the old smelting works in Sulitjelma, a new major feature film will arise, with Oscar nominee Nils Gaup as director.

2017-03-1011:12 Viktor Håkonsen

“This is a huge story. It deals quite simply with the birth of the Nordic trade union movement,” says General Manager of Arbeiderkamp AS (Ltd), Tom Vidar Karlsen.

The search for minerals has always been important and there are few places where it has been as intense and extensive as in the Salten region. In the mining community Sulitjelma in the borough of Fauske, it started in full in the late 1800s.

“In just a few years business exploded and there were over 1500 miners and even more people up here, deep in the Arctic mountains,” says Karlsen.

However, unlike the search for gold in Alaska and Klondike, for instance, it was to be a Swedish company that secured the rights to the lucrative copper deposits in the Sulis mountains, a company that ruled its workers with an iron hand.

“It was an extremely class-divided community,” Karlsen tells us.

On the one hand there was a ruling upper class that lacked nothing whatsoever. They had their own police force, their own symphony orchestra and a top modern infirmary that was one of the first in the country to have access to an X-ray machine – shortly after they had been invented in Germany. The mining community also had electricity as early as 1893.

On the other hand, the labour force worked under absolutely disgraceful conditions. Things were so bad that the area was referred to as “Lapland’s Hell”. Norwegians, Swedes, Finns, Russians, Sámi and Kvenish people worked side by side in an international melting pot. Wages were minimal and those who became ill or were injured, found themselves promptly out of work.

The workers were cramped together in meagre barracks, hygiene was practically non-existent and knife fights and drinking were daily occurrences. It had to stop. Slowly but surely the trade union movement took shape.

“There comes a time in every generation when enough is enough,” Karlsen asserts.

And the time came in January 1907. The mining company introduced a system that was defined as “slave tags”. These were tags the miners had to wear around their necks to show who was at work. This was the hair that broke the camel’s back. A massive revolt spread across Sulitjelma and in January 1907, the workers congregated out on the ice at Langvann lake. This frozen lake was the only place they were allowed to meet, the only place not owned by the company.


The rebellion was successful. The first trade union was established and on 1 May 1907, the workers went on a procession and listened an appeal made by one Martin Tranmæl.

This marked the beginning of more worthy conditions and better wages. Mining operations continued up until 1991, when the mines were finally closed.

“The film covers the whole struggle that led to the uprising. It is a story of exploitation, of hate, love and betrayal. An epic story that shows how far people are willing to go to protect their values and create a better society,” says Tom Vidar Karlsen.

”And it wasn’t only Sulis and Norway that felt the consequences. A seed was sown ensuring that democracy and the trade union movement took root and grew all over Scandinavia. This was an uprising that was to change history – once and for all.

Oscar winner Nils Gaup (Pathfinder/The Kautokeino Rebellion) will be directing the film. Arbeiderkamp AS (Ltd.) are now in full swing with the completion of the script. Subsequently, efforts will be concentrated on securing the final funding and finding international associates.

”During work on the preliminary project we have been met with tremendous goodwill by Fauske municipal council, Nordland County Council and a long line of other business and finance executives all of whom have expressed a wish to support the film,” says Karlsen, clearly moved by the response.

The film is also important to the borough of Fauske with a view to the vital role mining has played in the development of the community.