Workers protest as Swedish 'model' collapses

November 25, 1992

By Kjell Pettersson

STOCKHOLM — The famous Swedish "model" is being torn down. Unemployment is close to 10%, up from less than 2% not long ago. Youth unemployment is over 15%. Mass sackings are expected in the public service sector. Trade union rights are under attack. New, record high rent increases are on the way.

It was at the start of June that the leadership of LO, a trade union organisation with 2.2 million members, called for a day of protest on October 6, the day that parliament opened its autumn session.

At that time they did not know that their comrades in the Social Democratic Party (SAP) would negotiate and sign two austerity packages together with the bourgeois coalition government. These packages include cuts totally 60 billion Swedish kronor (about $US12bn).

But preparations for "The Day of Justice" had gone too far when the cuts package came down. It would have been impossible to call it off. And it became a protest directed not only against the government of Carl Bildt, but also against the rightwing policy of the SAP.

Many in the demonstrations expressed their disappointment with the "betrayal" by Social Democracy, and spoke of the need for a new workers' party.

But hard criticism was also directed against the trade union leadership. The anger arises from their feeling that LO is more loyal to the SAP leadership than to the immediate interests of its members.

Thus, in Sweden's main working class town, Goteborg, the local daily paper quoted someone saying, "I think it is time for [LO Chairperson] Stig Malm to start representing the LO members.

"He has been sitting in the SAP leadership and has approved proposals going against his members' interests. There is a great need for an independent trade union. More fighting wouldn't harm one bit!"

Other lower-level union leaders are asking for a new political leadership in the SAP which would stand for working class policies. Many have started to question the present course and the LO leadership. But at the same time the SAP's grip over the union remains firm, and it still gets around 45% in opinion polls.

It was clear that trade union leaders faced a dilemma on the Day of Justice. Most of the speakers avoided any mention of the SAP in their speeches. Instead they criticised the so-called "market". In Stockholm, for example, the chairperson of the Seafarer's Union was the main speaker. He vigorously denounced capitalism, market dictatorship and the employers. But then he went on to sneak in his opinion that the cuts packages may have been necessary.

Leif Blomberg, chairperson of 450,000 engineering workers in Goteborg, stated that "to deal with the market is like playing chess with the devil. You can never get checkmate." But he refrained from telling the audience of more than 10,000 his opinion of the crisis packages.

October 6 was, whatever its weaknesses, a success for Sweden's workers and low income workers. Well over 100,000 people participated in 150 towns and cities in actions opposing the two latest austerity packages. Discontent is growing over rightwing policies, the SAP and the present course of the trade union movement.

The next battle is being prepared. This first round of contract negotiations has just begun. The Employers Confederation has demanded the extension of present contracts — in other words, a one-year wage freeze.

If this is not accepted, they assert, the "market" will force a new austerity package on the people.

It remains to be seen if the patience of the Swedish labor force will break.
[From International Viewpoint.]

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