Sweden: Strong solidarity against Connex rail firm’s union busting

Underground train drivers demand political strike

On Thursday, 6 October, a five hour ‘wild-cat’ strike almost completely stopped the underground system in Stockholm. It showed the massive backing for the union leader of the train drivers, Per Johansson, who was recently sacked by the infamous trans-national company, Connex. The support for Per Johansson and trade union rights was further underlined when, on the web-site of the daily newspaper, Aftonbladet, 71% (of 46,000 people polled) said they were in favour of the strike.

Nine out of ten drivers took part in the strike, in spite of it being formally ‘illegal’. Later the same day, many of them joined in a lobby outside Connex’s headquarters in Stockholm, when negotiations between the company and the drivers’ union over this issue took place. “Sack Connex, not Per!” was one of many slogans shouted.

A union meeting with 120-130 drivers on Tuesday, 11 October, decided to organise a demonstration for Thursday, October 20, in Stockholm city, marching to the office of the regional council (which is in charge overall for local transport). At the meeting there were also strong demands for a political strike.

“We can’t retreat on the political strike. There is no compromise. Behind Connex are political forces testing us out. The consequences of a defeat are too big,” warned Pedro, one of the drivers.

“We are the strongest workforce, if we don’t drive the trains the city will stop. What can Connex do if everyone goes on strike?” said a female driver.

Calculated attack on union rights

Connex’s decision to sack Per Johansson is a calculated and prepared attack on all democratic and trade union rights. This was totally clear at the negotiations with the company. The main accusation against Per Johansson was that he had “exceeded the right to criticise”. This was when the union sent out a press release that the emergency telephones in the underground were out of order! This, and other examples, proves that there are no “personal” reasons for the sacking, which the company has claimed. It is a blatant attempt to silence a critical and fighting trade union.

Experts on labour rights confirm that union-busting consultants wrote the accusations made by Connex. The fact that a trans-national company runs the underground system is a threat both to security and to democratic rights.

The support in public opinion has also been reflected in the mainstream media. Not even the normally anti-union papers, like Dagens Nyheter, carried attacks on the strike. Aftonbladet gave over six pages to the strike, including Per’s answers to the Connex’s accusations. In the paper, Expressen, Per was called the “strike hero”. Last Tuesday, he was on the main state TV channel, debating with an Employers’ Federation leader.

The drivers’ union, nationally and regionally, supports Per Johansson. The union pointed out that Connex got support from the local transport organisation of the regional council, SL. A week before the sacking, the CEO of SL accused Per’s union branch of being “fundamentalists”. This has been backed up by the leading Social Democrats in the regional council.

Trade union support resolutions have arrived, for example, from mineworkers in the north of Sweden, underground train drivers in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF). Resolutions from CWI comrades in the Czech Republic, Israel, Pakistan, Britain, the US and other parts of the wprld were read out at union meetings.

This is, without question, the most important issue in Sweden, at the moment. Much is at stake: the already passive trade union movement must either fight or be pushed further backwards. Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI Sweden) urges all members and supporters to take solidarity action in their workplaces and trade unions. We are using the union’s petition and our newspaper and badges in this campaign. We are campaigning for a good turnout at next Thursday’s demonstration and we put forward the demand for a one-day, political strike. Also, students and school students can campaign on the issue. We are planning a solidarity meeting at Stockholm University.

SEKO, the national service and communication union to which the train-drivers belong, says it is discussing whether they should call a national political strike, which would be perfectly legal. This, in itself, is a step forward, and a formal decision in favour of strike action would be historic. But, even if the leadership of SEKO, or the trade union federation, LO, says no to such action, or remains undecided, there is pressure mounting for a political strike to be organised from below.

It is vital that a date for a strike is made public, as soon as possible, while the fighting mood is there. Such a day of action would receive widespread support, as a defence against all attacks on workers’ rights. It would increase the pressure on the politicians, not least since there are elections next year. The demand for the regional council to sack Connex – to end its contracts – must be to the fore.

The union activists are extremely grateful for all statements of support which are all carried on the union’s website:- www.klubb119.org. As this will probably be a prolonged struggle, more such statements are welcome.

Offensiv and Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI Sweden) appeal to all trade union and political activists to send messages of protest and support, with the following demands:

  • the sacking of Per Johansson must be withdrawn
  • the trade union movement must mobilise in protest against the sacking
  • the regional council should stop the privatisation of the underground and itself run it again
  • the ruling parties in the regional council – Social Democrats, the Left Party and the Greens – should condemn the sacking

Messages should be sent to:

  • SEKO Branch 119. liljeholmen@klubb119.org
  • Boss of Connex: pelle.svensson@Connex.se
  • Leader of regional council’s local transport board: anna.berger.kettner@politik.sll.se
  • Leader of Stockholm regional council: ingela.nylund-watz@politik.sll.se

Please also send copies to: offensiv@socialisterna.org

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October 2005