GENERICO.ruRussiaEvery welder can rule the kingdom

Every welder can rule the kingdom

In early November, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Loewen resigned after a series of crises related to budgetary and social policy in the country. The 64-year-old Social Democrat headed the government for seven years, although he did not start at all as a politician – in the 80s, Leuven worked as a welder and joined a trade union, like many blue-collar workers in those years. Defending the rights of employees later allowed him to take leading positions in the Union of Metallurgists, and in social democratic Sweden this almost always means the ability to directly influence political decisions within the country. The Swedish labor movement is still considered one of the most influential in the world, and the state (with rare exceptions) does not challenge the right of the Swedes to regulate the labor market themselves – only through non-violent negotiations were workers and employers able to ensure a stable increase in wages in the market, made it impossible for the country to be a phenomenon unpaid overtime, guaranteed physical and mental health benefits, and more.

But if back in the 1990s 80% of the country's population were members of trade unions, now, in a volatile and fragmented economy, this share is decreasing, and professional associations are trying to find a place for themselves in the 2020s.

Novaya Gazeta examines how the conquests of the trade union movements allowed Sweden to preserve a social democratic society, how the struggle for workers' rights became one of the determining factors in political life, and how long the Swedes will manage to maintain this fragile balance of equality in the labor market.

after debates in the Riksdag, September 2021. Photo: Nils Petter Nilsson/Getty Images

Folkhemmet. How the Swedes built the people's house

The career of the now ex-Prime Minister of Sweden Stefan Löwen developed in such a way that the political strategists of the Social Democratic Labor Party (SDLP) did not even have to invent a beautiful story to show how important the connection between trade unions and the “Swedish model” is. He was born in 1957 in Stockholm to a single mother who could not feed her two sons, so the youngest – the future prime minister – ended up in an orphanage. Soon he was adopted by a working family from a village in the Odalen district in the north of the country, and this is an important detail in the development of Leuven.

Odalen for the Swedes is a place akin to Novocherkassk for the Russians.

Workers along the path Demonstration , 1931, shortly before the execution. Hand painted. Archive

In May 1931, workers staged a solidarity strike here in opposition to the wage cut. The administration drove in strikebreakers, and skirmishes began. There were almost no police in the small town, and therefore the local authorities called on regular troops for help. The soldiers shot at the workers' protest, killing five people.

The shooting in Odalen became a landmark event for Sweden, after which the population stopped voting for the liberal forces, and the Social Democrats came to power led by Per Albin Hansson … It was he who developed the concept of the “Swedish model”, a welfare society or, in Hansson's own terms, Folkhemmet (“people's house”), which implies building relationships in the labor market through constant negotiations between workers 'unions and employers' associations

a kind of “third way” between socialism and capitalism, in which power plays no role.

The founding father of the modern Swedish model of power, Prime Minister Per Albin Hansson. Photo: FPG/Archive Photos/Getty Images

After the tragedy in Odalen, the Social Democrats were entrenched in power in Sweden for many years and remain there to this day – since 1932, the Social Democrats have been prime minister much more often than representatives of other parties, and in total, the party remained “overboard” for only 18 years.

Growing up in Odalen, Leuven took a year-long course in welders, was inspired by the ideas of one of the fathers of social democracy, Olof Palme, opened a local branch of the youth organization of the Social Democratic Party, but did not go into politics. He continued to work as a welder in defense enterprises and at the age of 24 began to work in parallel in the trade union of metallurgy workers (now – IF Metall).

By 2005, Leuven became the head of the trade union, and then there was party work, the post of leader of social affairs by 2012 year (and the future prime minister refused the first proposal to head the SDLP) and victory in the elections in 2014. On a farewell tour before his retirement, Leuven returned to Odalen. “I wanted to close the circle,” he said in an interview with a local newspaper.

When the former welder and trade unionist became the leader of the SDLP during the reign of Fredrik Reinfeldt, a liberal conservative from the Moderates party, he faced a misunderstanding of his ideas for a new industrialization in a changing green economy. Many of Leuven's opponents from the conservative forces spoke of his factory past with reproach, and in the right wing the word “welder” became almost a dirty word. By the end of Leuven's term, Sweden had consolidated its first position in the global green growth rankings, Northvolt began manufacturing recycled lithium batteries, and Ericsson bought the US cloud provider Vonage.

Sweden is now among the leaders in green economy growth. Swedish companies make batteries from recycled materials (pictured from Northvolt press release) components for making batteries from recycled materials

“I think the turning point for Stefan was union work. After all, he was the head of the metallurgical trade union, and this is what allowed him to enter the leadership of the Social Democratic Party. He was not a party activist, either regionally or locally. He has always been the leader of the union, and therefore seemed to many a suitable candidate. It is arranged something like this: the party is actually led by a team of seven representatives, and Stefan became one of them, since for decades the places there have been assigned to trade union leaders, “Teresa Guovelin, First Vice President, explains in an interview with Novaya Gazeta. The Swedish Confederation of Trade Unions (LO), in which Prime Minister Leuven worked.

LO is the largest national trade union organization in Sweden, which unites 14 specialized trade unions of conventional “blue collars” – from builders, metallurgists and electricians to musicians. artists, as well as employees of hotels and restaurants.

It has 1.5 million inhabitants of 10 million Sweden, or about 61% of the country's workers.

The LO Confederation appeared in Sweden in 1898 in the wake of strikes and the first industrial uprisings in Northern Europe and has always been inextricably associated with the Social Democratic Party. In all the mainland Scandinavian countries – Sweden, Norway and Denmark – a similar link already existed at the level of the trade union (confederation) and political (party) wing of the social democratic movement.

Teresa Guov, First Vice President Confederation of Trade Unions

White-collar trade unions appeared in Sweden in the middle of the 20th century – now they are the Confederation of Professional Employees (TCO) and the Confederation of Professional Associations (SACO), which are mainly composed of economists, architects, lawyers and representatives of other professions for which the country requires a university education.

Moreover, the social democrats in Sweden do not have a monopoly on the trade union movement, which could influence the domestic political agenda. The “Party of the Center”, which in the recent past was in open confrontation with the Social Democrats, until the 50s was an agrarian “Peasant Party”.

Centrist candidate Thorbjørn Feldin – son of a farmer and leader of the Sheep Breeders' Union (Svenska fåravelsföreningen) – became prime minister several times in the 70s and 80s.

For employers in each area there are some kind of counterbalance trade unions, or rather, umbrella organizations representing the interests of business and administration at enterprises. They are united in the Confederation of Swedish Enterprises (Svenskt Näringsliv), which, in contrast to the strongly associated with the Social Democrats LO, follows a rather libertarian course.

In addition to the established trade union organizations, there are various small unions in the country that represent workers as the private and public sectors of the economy – for example, from 1910 to the present, the anarcho-syndicalist trade union SAC has been operating in the country, representing workers, unemployed, and students.


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