One year of right-wing policies is more than enough! That was the clear message from demonstrations and protests against the Swedish government up and down the country on Tuesday. In Stockholm, between 6,000 and 7,000 gathered in protest against the right-wing attacks. We have hardly ever seen a demonstration so filled with fighting spirit and enthusiasm. It was a youthful demonstration, mixed with delegations of trade union activists.
Slogans like, ‘They brought down unemployment benefit – now we will bring them down!’ showed it was not just a protest but also a indicated a willingness to go further and build a movement that wants to overthrow the government.
The demonstrations, organised by the new grass roots network, ‘September alliance’, were an insistent, forceful and loud riposte to the government’s new attacks on the unemployed and the sick. In the new budget, presented this week, new cuts in sick pay and unemployment benefit are financing tax cuts, mainly for the rich.
The demonstrations were a forceful reply to the leaderships of the trade union federations for manual and white collar workers – the LO and TCO - who have refused to organise a struggle. Some union leaders (namely those of Kommunal in Stockholm) even attacked the demonstration, saying that it included organisations that do not condemn violence and that they did not trust Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI Sweden). The Social Democratic Party - the official opposition in parliament - does not want to support protests that they themselves cannot control.
Despite no support from either national or regional union leaders, the turnout was even bigger than last December for the official LO unions’ evening demonstration against the attack on the unemployment benefits. However, many local unions did give their support, such as council workers in the child- and elderly care, the all-Stockholm bus drivers´ section, two of the four postal workers’ branches, the two metro workers’ unions and one teachers’ local branch as well as the two major miners´ unions. On top of this, environmental groups, campaign groups against privatisation of council houses and schools, immigrant groups, refugees without papers as well as most left wing organisations took part.
“The right-wing is privatising everything we’ve got. But here we have gathered together the resistance to it. We aim to sink the government!” said Bilbo Göransson, activist in Kommunal, branch 28, the initiator of the trade union appeal for struggle, supported by some 20 other local unions. Bilbo Göransson was the first speaker at the demonstration. Later that night, his speech was the main news on the national radio news. Together with Lena Ezelius, also a Kommunal activist, he was also on national morning TV before the demonstration. Almost every national media, including television, reported from the demonstrations.
“All trade unions must take up the struggle and expose the policies of the government. The so-called workers’ party – as the major right wing ‘Moderates’ claimed to be during last year’s election campaign – now wants to break the trade union movement! But one thing makes me worried, frankly even furious, and that is the invitation from the LO leadership to the Employers’ Federation for talks about the right to strike. Instead, the unions should dig in their heels and say: ‘Don’t touch our labour rights!’”, said Harry Rantakyrö, chair of the miners’ union in Kiruna, who was invited to speak in Stockholm.
Other speakers included Jennifer Hillbom, from a women’s rights network; Elin Gauffin, speaking against the privatisation of council housing; Tomas Nilsson from the other miners’ branch in the North; Hasse Nilsson, secretary of a branch of the teachers’ union and the chairperson of ‘Young Left’ in Stockholm spoke against racism and the neo-nazis. Train driver, Per Johansson, recently victimised by Connex rail, spoke of the lack of political as well as trade union leadership and, like other speakers, of the need to mobilise the whole movement on a much bigger scale.
The 18 September protesters have promised more. The demonstration in Stockholm was one of the biggest left-wing mobilisations for a long time. In Gothenburg, 500 took part in the demonstration and in Umeå and Luleå 150-200 each. Now, the network will go ahead with discussions on how to continue and step up the campaign.
Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (RS, CWI Sweden) has been a key part of this campaign since its beginning and cooperation with other organisations has gone better than on previous occasions. RS members have worked hard to mobilise from their own workplaces and schools among those who are now familiar with the party. On the Sunday before the demonstrations, RS members in Stockholm sent text messages to over 400 of the local subscribers of the party paper, Offensiv, to remind them about the protest. More than 400 copies of the party’s weekly paper, Offensiv, were sold on the Stockholm demonstration and around 35 subscriptions to the paper. Similar successes were scored elsewhere.
RS as a party is for stepping up the pressure on trade union leaders to put their full weight into new mobilisations against the government. This week’s protest brings into focus the need for a political general strike and also a genuine mass party of workers.
(See article published here on 5 September, 2007 entitled: ‘Sweden: Extreme class differences and neo-liberal attacks from right-wing government’.)