The quality of working life is apparently deteriorating in most highly developed countries: insecure employment relationships are becoming more common. The numbers of working poor are growing. Performance requirements and workload are increasing. Employee participation and influence on one’s own work are being reduced because of standardization and performance controls.

In Norway and Denmark (and other Nordic countries), deterioration of working conditions is not an appropriate general description of the changes in working life since the late 1990s, although the two countries are deeply involved in the global economy, characterized by strong competition and capital and labour crossing borders. In Norway and Denmark, it has apparently been possible to adapt to global trends without a general deterioration of working conditions. How come?

We will suggest one key explanation for this relative success: the organized, accepted and institutionalized class conflicts. In this chapter, the basic understanding of the class conflicts and compromises will be described, and we will highlight some of the effects the institutionalized class conflict has had on employment, security, wages and, not least, the quality of daily work.

In the following chapters, we will go deeper into how the institutionalized class relations work in different parts of the labour market, the results achieved and the challenges being experienced.