"Are you tired of the silence about extreme class differences, privatisations and the injustices of neo-liberal politics? Do you, like a growing number of trade unions, organisations and individuals, want to step up resistance against right-wing policies? A petition launched by the council workers’ union, Kommunal, branch no.28 in Stockholm and supported by, among others, the miners’ unions in Norrbotten, north Sweden, is appealing to the entire trade union movement to organise a day of protest against the the government’s right wing policies.
"At the same time, a new broad network, the ‘September Alliance’, has been formed. A big demonstration will be organised when parliament reconvenes for the Autumn on 18 September, one year after the elections."
This is the text of a leaflet, 50,000 copies of which have been printed so far, being distributed by the new rank and file network for the demonstration in September. So far forty five organisations have joined the campaign. Among them are a number of local unions:- the two most well-known miners’ branches from the north of Sweden, branches of Kommunal including no.28 (West and North Stockholm), no.30 (healthcare workers), no.34 (bus drivers) plus branches of Seko (Communication Workers’ Union) in the postal service and on the underground - train drivers, ticket sellers and cleaning workers, a Seko branch in Västerbotten (Umeå region), a teachers’ union branch, a branch of transport workers and steelworkers in the Luleå metal-workers’ union
Involved in the campaign are also organisations of environmentalists, women activists, campaign groups against the privatisation of council houses, so-called "illegal" immigrants (without papers) plus Iranian and Latin American immigrants.
Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI Sweden) has been a key part of this initiative since the start. The Syndicalist Youth, Young Left (the youth wing of the Left Party) and most other left wing organisations have joined.
This Spring, the mineworkers’ union sharply criticised the soft wage negotiations of the central unions. In May, 2,000 mine workers conducted a two-day long "wildcat" sit-in strike for higher wages. Now they are in the forefront of the resistance against the right-wing policies of the government and their leaders will participate in the demonstration on 18 September. "This initiative is something we support. We all need to wake-up," Harry Rantakyrö, miners’ leader in Kiruna, told Offensiv, the paper of Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna.
"Never before have the class differences been greater in Sweden," the daily paper, Aftonbladet, said in an article carried on 9 May this year. Ten per cent of the population "owns half of all money". The new right-wing coalition government elected last year is now aggressively speeding up neo-liberal policies.
The protest movement for 18 September has listed some of them. A major one has been attacks on unemployment benefits and sick pay with a drastic increase in the payments for unemployment insurance, historically administrated by the trade unions. This has risen by up to 500 SEK (55) a month at the same time as the period an unemployed person can get benefit has been reduced.
As a result, 20 per cent of workers in some unions have quit the unemployment insurance scheme and 46,000 members have left the LO (national trade union federation) unions in four months. Now, recommended sick pay periods for most diagnoses will be significantly shortened, for example, a maximum of four weeks for heart attacks.
Another part of the massive neo-liberal agenda has been the privatisation of state companies, council housing, healthcare, schools, elderly care and public transport.
Many of the attacks were introduced or prepared by the Social Democratic governments of 1994-2006. But the pace has now been brutally speeded up. Next year, one forecast says, a third of school students in Stockholm (under a right-wing council) will go to schools run by private owners, but financed by tax payers. Stockholm and other currently right wing controlled councils have decided to privatise, or open up for bids, all council activities with the only exception of "decision making"!
Extreme tax reductions have been made for the rich, alongside attacks on the low paid, on pensioners, students etc. Stefan Persson, the owner of the H&M chain of shops, gained 32 million SEK (36m) when the wealth tax was abolished. Also the property tax has been scrapped, giving tens of thousands annually to rich house owners. Also for those who can afford them, the government has given a tax rebate for employing maids. Rich people will get half of the cost, up to 100,000 SEK, for employing cleaners, nannies etc in their house.
Threats against the right to strike have been made. This is despite the low level of strikes in Sweden. The employers’ federation and the right wing parties know that union leaders cannot hold back their members forever, so they are trying to take pre-emptive action.
The government is failing to adopt sufficient policies against global warming. Also, there are proposals to give employers total control over the migration of labour (a new guest working scheme for non-Europeans), opening the way for reduced wages and worse conditions for everyone. So-called "illegal" immigrants, already used as cheap labour, are not being granted amnesty against deportation. In general, the right-wing government in Sweden has a thoroughly reactionary foreign and asylum policy including the deployment of 300 soldiers in Afghanistan and deciding to deport refugees to Iraq, the Congo, Afghanistan, Sudan etc.
Union leaders stay to one side
The central and regional trade union leaders, however, are not participating in the campaign for 18 September. Neither are the Social Democratic party or the Left party. Bilbo Göransson, initiator of the trade union petition and responsible for contacting the leadership of the LO for the campaign says: "The assistant deputy leader of the LO (the blue collar trade union federation with two million members), Leif Håkansson, has said we are on the same side, but the opening of parliament on 18 September is a day of celebration for democracy. Therefore its wrong to demonstrate! But he is wrong. Instead, the day is a further declaration of war by the government against workers and the low paid that must be answered".
In fact, on 6 October 1992 and 1993, the LO demonstrated on the day of the opening of parliament against the then right-wing government! The regional LO leadership of Stockholm has preferred a sing-a-long gathering "against the right" instead. On top of May Day and the LO Congress next year they have expressed their fear of "an inflation of protests" (too many)!
The LO leadership has no alternative policy to the government. It does not trust its members and just wants to play a low key "wait and see" role until there is a Social Democratic government again in 2010. At present, the "opposition" in parliament (Social Democrats, Left Party and Greens) has 53 per cent support in opinion polls, as compared to 42 per cent for the government parties. The massive swing in the polls against the new government, occurred immediately after the election because of the attack on unemployment benefits in particular and has persisted ever since. But the betraying role played by the union leaders - their extreme passivity - could eventually open the way for the Social Democrats to lose the upper hand, with quiescence and demoralisation spreading.
Struggle needed now
With regard to the state of the economy, there has probably never been a better situation for the working class to launch a struggle. The state budget has a surplus of 138 million SEK this year; almost all the local and regional councils even run surpluses at the moment. The big private companies have higher profits than ever. Just twenty companies pay out 101 billion SEK to shareholders - in most cases a bigger proportion of capital than they use for investments.
The mood among workers and people on the streets is very frustrated, but they are mostly in support of a day of protest on 18 September. A key task now is for the campaign to reach out with information about the protest demonstration in the face of a media blackout. The brake being applied by the trade union leaders and the lack of a workers’ party arguing for an alternative programme means that our efforts have to be even greater in taking the first steps towards organising mass resistance to the government and all its arch-right wing policies.