The Swedish elections were historic in many ways. In a polarised vote, with a increased turnout, the right-wing “Alliance” was again the biggest bloc while losing their overall majority. The racist Sweden Democrats (SD) won 20 parliamentary seats and the Social Democrats had their worst result since 1914.
Against the main trend, Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (RS – CWI Sweden) kept its five council seats with increased votes.
Best ever result for ‘Moderates’
After the elections, Sweden is more divided than for a long time. Increased social inequality has created an anger and frustration that is waiting to be expressed in collective struggle. On Monday, only the day after the elections, up to 20,000 people participated in demonstrations against racism, called by Facebook groups. These demonstrations, alongside protests that stopped street meetings of the SD during the election campaign, are signs of what is coming.
“Those who vote for the [right-wing] Alliance will wake up with a stable government Monday morning,” right-wing Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said on election day. But the new right-wing government is far from stable and is now only able to continue with the support of one or more parties from outside of its alliance. Of the four parties in government, only the biggest, the Moderates, increased their vote. In the ‘Red-Green’ opposition bloc, the Social Democratic vote dramatically dropped while the Greens won nearly 50% more votes than in 2006 and the Left party (V) fell from 5.85 percent to 5.6 percent and lost three of their MPs. The polarisation meant that both blocs, the governing ‘Alliance’ and the ‘Red-Green’ opposition, increased their actual number of votes, but lost in percentages. This was because of the more than doubling of the racist Swedish Democrats’ vote to just under 340,000, 5.6% of the total.
The Moderates got their best ever result with 30 per cent of the vote for parliament, compared to 26 per cent in 2006. It is the Moderates, to a certain extent at the expense of its ‘Alliance’ allies, who have gained from the attempt to buy votes. With tax reductions – four rounds of lowered income taxes – the government has attempted to split those with a job from those without (pensioners, the unemployed, etc.). Alongside tax reductions, the public sector has been further cut, even if the loss of income has been partly compensated for by sales of state-owned companies.
RS protest in Haninge/Stockholm against the Sweden democrats during the election campaign
Lack of struggle from trade union leaders
If the trade unions and the so-called opposition had organised a struggle against the massive reductions in unemployment benefits, sick pay and pensions that paid for the tax reductions, these attempts to split the working class would have been blocked. There was a willingness to struggle, not least reflected in the strong support, following the 2006 elections, for a political strike against the attacks on unemployed. But instead of a strike, the trade union tops reduced their protest to a petition on the internet and small demonstrations on the day parliament took the decision to attack benefits (14 December 2006).
Weakness invites aggression. After the attack on unemployment benefits, a series of measures followed to push down wages and working conditions, particularly hitting the growing number of workers with casual jobs. The inability of the trade union tops to organise any struggle is a reason why the Moderates have won votes among workers.
But it is worth remembering that this government had the worst loss of support of any government in its first 100 days. By the end of 2006, the SAP alone had more support than the four parties in government put together. The SAP, the Left Party and the Greens combined had more than 50 per cent in opinion polls. Even so it was only June of this year that the government parties gained a lead in the opinion polls.
Svenska Dagbladet, a daily paper, wrote on 13 December 2009: The right-wing alliance “risks losing the elections in the same way as they won in 2006. On protest votes. In the SCB [state statistic bureau] main opinion poll the Red-Greens are ahead and the Moderates are falling behind… the debate over the sick-pay insurance has led to a loss of 350,000 potential votes for the government.” But against the opposition was the legacy of the Social Democratic governments of 1994-2002, with a huge crisis of confidence for the SAP.
SAP – new leaders same old pro-capitalist policies
The new leadership of the SAP was only new in name; the policies and the faces were the same as before. And in councils and regional councils with the SAP in power, the neo-liberal policy continued. The bourgeoisification of the SAP is mainly marked by the fact that the party is no longer seen as guaranteeing welfare and employment. Their support, already weakening, was further undermined by the view of the leadership that left-wing policies and class arguments would scare middle-class voters.
The continued shift to the right of the SAP was manifest at their party congress in November 2009, when it stated that private or public ownership was a “non-issue”. The main consequence was an acceptance of private schools and health centers. The capitulation of the trade unions in the wage negotiation rounds this spring gave additional support to the view that there was no alternative to right-wing policies and the dictatorship of the market. This, alongside the lack of struggle, gave the government the possibility of winning back lost ground with the help of tax reductions.
Economy still deep in trouble
The Moderates in particular, being the largest party in the government, made gains as the crisis affected different parts of the country in different ways. In the Stockholm region, employment even increased in 2009, while one in three of metal industry workers in Västerbotten in the north were unemployed. The tax reductions alongside consumption fuelled by credit in households also added to continued purchasing power for those with jobs, despite a drop of gross domestic product of 6 per cent in 2009. The housing bubble has not yet burst in Sweden.
When the economy started to recover from its historic recession and the worst seemed to be over, while other European countries were close to bankruptcy at the same time, this gave grounds for the myth of the financial ‘successes’ of the government. The opposition could quickly have replied by launching a struggle for hundreds of thousands of welfare and green jobs, the right to work full time and reductions in working hours without loss of pay, plus the right to secure jobs instead of casual jobs. But the Red-Greens were locked into the same budget discipline as the government and therefore had no real alternative.
The lack of alternative and a fighting labour movement gave ground to the view that the situation was improving after all and there was nothing that could be done about it anyway. This view existed not only in the so-called middle class but also among workers and youth, making it easier for the government to conduct an ideological campaign against the public sector and what they, with contempt, call “those living on state grants”. But today’s moods are temporary phenomena.
No majority for either alliance
Sweden now has a hung parliament with the racist SD holding the balance of power. The new political landscape marks a deepening political crisis that could result in early elections (which would be unique in Swedish history) or even a new grand coalition. The ‘Red-Greens’ are in trouble, with the Greens considering a deal with the government. Locally, they already cooperate or rule in alliance with the right-wing parties in some areas. The Greens might defend support for the government with the argument that they want to avoid chaos and that some cosmetic promises might be made regarding the environment or nuclear power.
On election night, the LO (the main trade union federation) leader Wanja Lundby Wedin hinted at cooperation with the Greens and the Left Party in the wake of the catastrophic result of the SAP. Some social democrats argue for cooperation with the government to “stop the Sweden Democrats” – as if such cooperation has ever stopped racism. Without deals with other parties, the right wing will rule as a minority government, as they did in 1991-94, with the support of the racist party of that time, New Democracy.
Worst result since 1914 for SAP
Despite being in opposition against an extreme neo-liberal coalition and with extreme class inequality existing, the SAP had its worst election result since 1914. The party lost 6 percent of its votes compared to its also very low vote in 2006. It only kept its position as the biggest party in parliament by a slender margin. The SAP has become a party which is little different from the other pro-capitalist parties. It only kept its votes in the north, while in Stockholm it only got 22 percent of the vote.
Hardly has the media been as one-sided and campaigned so openly for the right wing as in this election. Even if that was not decisive in itself, it contributed to the vote for the government, since the Red-Greens lacked both policies and activists to respond in workplaces, housing areas and on the streets.
During the election campaign, newspapers wrote miles of columns about how good the Swedish economy was. From election night, however, they have read differently. Svenska Dagbladet wrote on Monday: “The new government does not arrive at a laid table. It will take time until the table is laid. Unemployment is 8 per cent and no-one can see a decrease, even in several years. The good figures for growth, exports and state finances can rapidly be changed to something more unpleasant if the global economy again dives downwards. The risks for a more negative development have increased over the last months.”
More attacks from bosses on the way – workers must struggle!
The “market”, betting on a majority right-wing government, expects continued counter-reforms on the labour market and more privatisations. Behind this worker-hostile programme is also the racist SD.
What is now needed is for activists in trade unions, rank-and-file organisations and on the left to unite in rapid action against right-wing policies and racism, with the aim of building a bigger movement. Without rapid action, the re-election of the government and the racist MPs risks strengthening the mood of resignation that exists. The current political climate and opinions reflected in the elections, however, will start to change with the whip of reaction and attacks will be answered with struggle.
A new right-wing government and the Sweden Democrats will strengthen all the contradictions accumulated beneath the surface. It is a provocation that only can be met with organised resistance, mass actions and socialist policies.
Up to 10,000 demonstrate in central Stockholm agajnst the Sweden democrats the day after the election
Sweden: Racist party elected to the Riksdag
What is behind the result of the “Sweden Democrats”?
The racist Sweden Democrats (SD) got 5.7 per cent and 20 MPs in the elections. With this result, the SD gained free tickets to television and newspaper publicity. Their leader, Jimmie Åkesson, is interviewed as if the SD is like any political party.
The SD got 330,000 votes (more than the Left Party, the former Communist Party) and got seats in 11 regional councils with 9.4 per cent in Skåne in the south. They increased or won their first seats in a number of councils. In addition, they received 12.4 per cent in school elections, although the Red-Green alliance won those elections and participation was low.
The election result immediately led to anti-racist demonstrations, with up to 20,000 participating in demonstrations in Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö the day after the elections. This shows the potential for a movement against the SD and racism.
Development of Sweden Democrats
The Sweden Democrats started as an openly fascist party, but has carried out gradual ‘make-overs’, ending up as an “immigrant-critical” party. Despite the media now saying they are no longer racist, the party has an armada of proposals for different rules and laws based on whether somebody is Swedish or not. Their previous demand for deportation of everyone who arrived to Sweden after 1970 has been dropped, but they still talk about the need for “ethnic similarity”. This in a country where close to one in five people has a foreign background.
Over the last few years, the SD has mainly campaigned against Muslims, naming Islam as the biggest “foreign threat” since the Second World War. In their propaganda, they also claim to defend care of the elderly. But in practice, in the councils where they have seats, they have voted for huge cuts and privatisation.
Fightback must be organised!
For all those worried over the election results, it is now a question of organising resistance. This in turn has to be based on an analysis of why their vote is increasing. Basically, it’s the same answer as why the right-wing alliance won the elections: the increased insecurity in society combined with the lack of organised resistance.
The SD is now all over the media and is guaranteed 110 million Swedish Kronor (€11 million) in state aid as a parliamentary party, but it is still a party with few active members. When thousands attended protests in the election campaign, the SD only mobilised a handful and had to cancel several of their street meetings.
Some right-wing commentators have even said the SD gained from these counter-demonstrations. The fact, however, is that the SD grew more where there were no counter-demonstrations. It is resistance that can strengthen all those that feel threatened by the racists and to a certain point check the racists. Those critical of demonstrations against the racists offer no alternative and are most often critical of all kinds of demonstrations.
On the other hand, the united stand of establishment politicians against the SD probably increased the support for the SD, making it possible to portray the party as “different”. It is not the protests, but privatisation, cuts in unemployment benefits, factory closure, council cuts, etc., that have given ground to the racists.
Dangers of the racists – build a strong anti-racist movement
The main danger now with the SD in parliament is that it will ‘infect’ the other parties, as has happened in Denmark, for example, where most parties compete with measures to be taken against immigrants. Another danger is the risk of increased racist violence, as fascists are encouraged by the SD vote. Racism today also means the risk of splits in the working class, when the real need is for common struggle.
A strong anti-racist movement must be built. It needs to stress the struggle against racism: act against racists and racist violence every time as well as the struggle for jobs, education, health care and housing for everyone.
To achieve this, workers and youth should be mobilised into a common struggle, disregarding language, religion and ethnic background.
The SD is a racist right-wing party with a fragile basis at the moment. Big mobilisations and class struggle can expose the SD, showing that all workers are losers with their policies, as well as undermining their support.
Sweden: CWI Sweden wins five council seats
Socialist campaigns gave increased votes
Elin Gauffin and Jonas Brännberg
Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (RS, CWI Sweden) kept its three council seats in Luleå and two in Haninge. It is an achievement in a political climate with almost no workers’ struggles, a right-wing victory in the general election, racist MPs elected and other left organisations losing votes.
In Luleå in the north of Sweden, RS got 2,180 votes, 4.5 percent, an increase of 335 votes, over 18 per cent up. A sharp increase in the number of voters, however, blocked the possibility of a fourth council seat.
In Haninge (south Stockholm), the increase was 185 votes to 1,416 (3.3 percent) and our two council seats were held. This was in contrast to the Left Party, which lost 234 votes. The Social Democrats (SAP) lost 1,269 votes in Haninge.
In the last week, the mood among our campaign workers was high, as reports from voters came in. We sold 2,198 election manifestos in six weeks and 917 individuals promised to vote for us, giving phone numbers and addresses, both higher than in the 2006 campaign. In contrast, the SAP campaign largely consisted of giving out candy and roses rather than political material!
Our campaign was fantastic, with big efforts made by members and supporters, many of whom took leave to work in the election. The campaign was wide-ranging, reaching out to new groups of supporters among warehouse workers, in child care and elderly care while at the same time having the youngest election campaigners.
Stronger roots meant that we increased our vote in new districts; at the same time we are still the third biggest party, with 9.7 per cent of the vote, in Jordbro, our working-class stronghold (about 10,000 inhabitants) where our councillors, Mattias Bernhardsson and Lina Thörnblom, also live. The total increase from 3 to 3.3 per cent in Haninge should also be seen against the background of an increase in the number of voters to 2,267.
Our party will, as we promised, continue to initiate protests and struggles with all those who want to fight back. Everything from the anti-racist movement to demands for an increase of staff in elderly care and child care, for an improved shopping centre in Jordbro and a new football field in Brandbergen.
Election campaign in Luleå
In this campaign, it was clear the party has strong roots amongst groups of workers. Our initiatives to struggle against worsening conditions in elderly care got a strong echo. The struggle against racism and for the right to asylum has increased our support among immigrants. We have also shown that struggles can be won, when privatisation of the council’s cleaning workers was stopped.
In Tuna housing area, we increased our vote by a quarter and RS is now the second biggest party. In old strongholds such as Örnäset and Svartöstaden we got 9 and 11 per cent respectively. In the biggest working class area, Hertsön, we got 9.2 per cent in our best district.
We were almost entirely boycotted by the media, and the lack of struggle in society created a situation that was far from simple. The focus on fighting the right-wing government meant many workers ‘forgot’ the SAP cuts in the council.
Everyone participating in the campaign did a fantastic job. Many of the most active election workers participated in their first election campaign. We had a stronger regional spread than previously and recruited new RS members both in Luleå and in neighbouring Boden.
The election result is proof of what support a clear socialist programme can win even in a complicated situation. Without the work done between elections, this campaign and result would not been possible.
We have recruited 27 new RS members in the campaign nationally and the increased support shown by the vote must now be used to further build the party as well as continue to put forward the need for a new workers’ party with socialist policies.
Postscript: Not all votes are counted yet, but the result in Gothenburg will be the best we have ever had. Our result stands in sharp contrast to others on the left. The ‘Communist Party’ in Gothenburg lost a third of their vote, 1,000 votes. As many, about 1,000, were lost by the rightward-moving split-off from RS in Umeå, losing two out of their three council seats.