Denmark: Nothing to fight about?

Six MPs for Red-Green Alliance in otherwise flat elections

The Danish social democratic party leader, Mogens Lykketoft, resigned on Tuesday (8 February) night after a new election defeat, which was even worse than in 2001.

"For voters, it could be hard to see the difference between us and the government", admitted Jakob Buksti, a social democratic ex-minister.

The right-wing coalition government of Anders Fogh Rasmussen, made up of Liberals, Conservatives and the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party, was able to secure a victory. They governing bloc received 55% of the vote and is on its way to getting 96 seats in the 179 seat Folketing, or Parliament. The social democrats got 45% of the vote and were set to get 79 seats.

But below the surface there is growing anger among workers and youth. Enhedslistan (‘Red-Green Alliance’) received 113,000 votes, an increase of more than 30,000, and increased its MPs from four to six. In the capital, Copenhagen, Enhedslistan received 9.2 per cent.

The right-wing alliance of Conservatives (K) and the liberal Venstre (V) has been in government since 2001, with the support of the racist Dansk Folkeparti (DFP). They have stepped up privatisation, attacked workers’ conditions, introduced drastic attacks on the rights of immigrants and refugees, and participated alongside the US-British occupation force in Iraq, with 510 troops.

Denmark has seen several protest movements since 2001, but these have unfortunately lacked clear political alternatives. Both social democracy – with a history of cuts in the public sector and attacks on immigrants when in government – and Socialistisk Folkeparti (SF, Socialist Peoples’ Party), have continued to drift to the right.

In the election campaign, the policies of the government and social democracy became almost identical. There was "nothing to fight about", commented Lars Bille, from the University of Copenhagen, in the newspaper, ‘Berlingske Tidene’. On the basis of an economic upturn, both alternatives promised more money for education, health care and elderly care, but within a framework of continued privatisations.

Fogh Rasmussen called for early elections in January, as the economy started to grow again (2.4% growth in 2004, 0.3% in 2003) and when opinion polls showed him ahead of social democracy. The election for the governments’ V+K bloc was 39.3% (- 1), while social democracy fell to 25.9% (-3.2). SF also lost, with 6% (-0.4).

Parties criticising the government increased their votes. The "left-liberal" Radikale Venstre got 9.2% (+4) and Enhedslistan got 3.4% (+1).

Social democracy and the unions

The historic defeat for social democracy in 2001 has been followed by a crisis in the party. The trade union federation, LO, has withdrawn eight million DKr (900,000 euro) in support for the social democrats, as they were forced to see that the party has changed. For example, in 1998, the social democratic government declared a big private sector strike illegal. The social democratic party leader, Mogen Lykketoft, who resigned this week, was Finance Minister in 1998.

Since 2001, the number of unemployed has increased by 30,000, with unemployment at 6.4 per cent. The LO leadership, however, has not developed any alternative since its partial break with social democracy. Both the conservatives and social democracy were invited to a LO conference held during the election campaign.

The working class

Above all, LO lacks an answer to jobs moving out of Demark. Local movements and actions have not become general. During the autumn, slaughterhouse workers went on strike against threats of wage cuts. The company concerned, ‘Danish Crown’, replied by moving 230 jobs from Ringsted in Denmark to Oldenburg in eastern Germany, where wages are much lower. Well-known companies, such as Lego, Ecco and Flextronics, alongside almost 50 others, have moved production abroad.

Following the elections in 2001, big trade union protests culminated in a day of mass demonstrations and strikes in March 2002. In August, last year, a conference of trade union activists was organised by regional LO bodies and an activist network. Many rank and file activists, however, were disappointed when the three invited parties – social democracy, SF and Enhedslistan – were not were requested to give any promises.

Youth struggle

The biggest movement in 2004 was against cuts in schools and education. 100,000 students and school students participated in demonstrations on 5 October – 30,000 rallied outside Parliament. In the town of Århus two schools were occupied.

This movement, ‘StopNOW’, has, despite its strong support, refused to call for the resignation of the government. It does not want to be seen as social democratic. In an election debate in front of 1,100 students, reported in a Danish newspaper, Enhedslistan (Red Green Alliance) had the strongest support.

Opinion polls have shown a strong left wing trend among youth, with opposition to the Iraq war, racism and cuts. Enhedslistan, which is made up of several left wing organisations, has had, without doubt, the biggest possibilities to go forward.

Racism and anti-racism

The racist DFP’s (Danish People’s Party) polling as the third biggest party in the elections in 2001 reflected the growing discontent with the main parties. DFP leader, Pia Kjærsgaard, described his party as a defender of health care and elderly care and linked this to attacks on the rights and conditions of immigrants and refugees. In the 2005 elections, however, RV and its leader Marianne Jelved, advocating a more humane refugee policy, made the biggest gains.

The DFP was behind its 2001 result in the opinion polls up to the last week of the 2005 elections. In response, the party stepped up racist rhetoric. In a newspaper advert it used text from a Norwegian racist, anti-Islamic organisation, FOMI. FOMI became infamous when it commented that "fortunately" many victims of the tsunami were Muslims. This racist advert by the DFP led to attacks from all the other parties, which indirectly gave the DFP credit for it being "different". On this basis, the DFP got 13.1 per cent in the elections, an increase of 1.1% from 2001.

The DFP has loyally supported the government, which, in turn, has introduced 27 changes to immigration policy. Among these is the ‘24-year rule’, which states that a Dane and a non-EU citizen younger than 24 years cannot live together in Denmark. Couples both are over 24, must deposit 50,000 Dkr in ‘security’. The foreign partner has to participate in an interview in Danish every second year, including completing a 24-page written questionnaire. This goes on for the first seven years, during which time the foreign spouse cannot get social benefits. The government has also abolished the right to apply for asylum at Danish embassies.

The social democratic "opposition" supports most of these attacks on immigrants and asylum seekers, and even Socialistisk Folkeparti’s (SF, Socialist People’s Party) criticism is limited.

The aim of these attacks is to split the unity of workers, at the same time attacking all workers. In the election campaign, Finance Minister, Thor Pedersen, said that lower wages for immigrants should be extended to all long-term unemployed.

Women and pensions

The leading Danish parties did not reveal their policies in the election campaign. "Reforms" in the pipeline, for example, lower pensions, were referred to a ‘welfare commission’ that will present its proposals at the end of this year. Opinion polls, however, show strong resistance against attacks on pensions.

The main parties avoided strong opinion against privatisations, above all, amongst working class women. Instead they promised more money to elderly care. All parties, even the Conservatives, have also tried to present themselves as ‘defenders of equality’ between men and women.

This election will have little immediate impact on the situation in Denmark. The coming years, however, will be marked by renewed attacks on workers, youth, women and immigrants – particularly in light of new economic problems for Denmark and Europe. Unemployment, for example, is rising steadily in Denmark, from 5% in early 2002 to 6.2% today.

The coalition government will become increasingly hated. In coming struggles, which we already have seen glimpses of, the support for socialist ideas and a new workers’ party, involving Enhedslistan (Red-Green Alliance), will increase.

This is an edited version of an article that appeared in this week’s ‘Offensiv’, the newspaper of the cwi in Sweden.

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February 2005