Sweden: Scandals deepen anti-establishment mood

CWI candidates campaign for higher public sector wages and more jobs.

With just over a week to go, the Swedish election campaign has yet to engage workers and youth. The traditional parties have fewer supporters and election workers than ever before.

The media and the parties themselves describe the elections as ”ideological”, between two antagonistic ”blocs”. On one side, the present social democratic government with its supporting parties, the Greens and the Left party (ex-Communist Party). On the other, is the four-party right-wing Alliance.

In the elections four years ago, the social democratic Prime Minister Göran Persson was still the favourite of big business. Persson’s austerity programme during the 1990s ("world record in cuts"), the deregulation of railways, local transport, post, electricity etc. as well as a pension "reform" ensured that support. This time, however, the capitalists are behind Fredrik Reinfeldt, the leader of the right-wing Alliance. They hope he will deliver renewed attacks on the labour market, further cuts in the public sector and privatisations.

In reality, however, the "blocs" are not so far apart, as one radio analysis concluded after a debate between Persson and Reinfeldt. The closest parallel is that of the Democrats and Republicans in the US, viciously attacking each other despite both being big business

alternatives. In a town run by the Left party, the right-wing Moderates say they would welcome the Left party council leader as a member of their own party.

”The differences are very small in Swedish politics… Sometimes we fake the contradictions,” the council leader, Stig Henriksson, himself admitted.

In Stockholm, run by the social democrats, Left party and Greens, the city council’s social affairs spokesperson and prominent Left party member, Margareta Olofsson, told Dagens Nyheter (5 September), ”It’s no big deal if services are run by the council or privately, so long as they are run well.”

The same newspaper pointed out that privatisations in Stockholm’s education and health sectors have increased since the social democratic-led coalition took control from the Alliance parties four years ago. Today, nearly one in five pupils in the Swedish capital go to private schools.

”New party”?

The social democrats who dominate the trade unions have tried to whip-up support by pointing to the threat from the Alliance. So far, this has had little effect. Workers understand this threat, but at the same time there is widespread distrust of all the parties, and against Persson personally. Apart from his pro-big business policies, he recently bought a stately home worth €2 million.

A big layer is looking for something new. The biggest party in the Alliance, the Moderates, therefore present themselves as "the new moderates" and even as "the new workers’ party". This can attract some middle layers, but many know that beneath the surface it is the same old right-wing party, preparing attacks on the unemployed, the sick and upon welfare in general.

The Alliance has maintained a lead in most opinion polls this year. But last week a new scandal erupted, involving several leading figures in the liberal People’s Party who have been illegally hacking into the internal social democratic computer network to spy on the government’s election strategy. The ”Leijongate” scandal (named after liberal leader Lars Leijonborg) could be the final straw which gives the present governmental bloc the upper hand. The liberals have claimed to be the guardians of morality in the campaign, calling for a tougher stand against crime, a crackdown on social security fraud and other abuses. They have now been exposed harbouring criminals (the police investigation could lead to two years in prison for some of those involved) within the highest ranks of the party. More scalps could yet be claimed.

Rather than just damaging the liberals, however, the spying scandal has further turned people against the entire political establishment and the elections in general, with all parties being seen as equally rotten.

This may increase the votes for alternatives outside the present parliamentary constellation, including on a localised level, the CWI section Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna which is contesting in several areas. Overall, however, the net result will more likely be lower participation. There is a big vacuum, which could also be exploited by the far right. One potential winner from the prevailing ”they’re all-the-same” mood, are the racist Sweden Democrats who look set to record their best ever result. Several polls place the Sweden Democrats above two percent in the parliamentary elections, and one poll last week put them at 2.9 percent. It cannot therefore be excluded that, based mainly on protest votes, that this party could get into parliament, where the threshold is four percent. The traditional parties too are competing to exploit prejudices in order to get votes, for example insisting there should be ”greater demands to conform” put on immigrants, to learn Swedish etc.

Growing economy?

A paradox of these elections is that despite strong growth in the Swedish economy of 4 per cent this year, the social democratic finance minister insists there is no room for ”major reforms”. Unlike the last election, the party’s election manifesto contains few new promises and even these are conditional on the economy continuing to enjoy strong growth. Among workers there is indignation at the record profits, bonuses and sky-high salaries of company directors and the rich. The top three electricity companies made a profit of €7 billion this year – 750 euros for every person in Sweden! Electricity prices are in fact the highest in Europe. None of the blocs even mention these facts in the election campaign, they just repeat there are no resources for higher wages or more jobs in the public sector.

The absence of a “bidding war” of election promises shows the politicians don’t believe the current growth will continue. This growth is based on higher productivity (greater pressure on workers to produce more) and exports. They also know that most wage contracts are up for negotiation next year. Already, we have seen a few localised workplace protests in the steel and mining industries which are enjoying a major boom.

All elections in Sweden – national, regional and local – are on the same day, every fourth year. There is nothing (no byelections etc.) in between. Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna is focusing on defending our council seats (3 in Umeå and 2 in Luleå) and maybe increasing the number of seats that we hold. Particularly, we have good prospects in the Stockholm suburb of Haninge. The reception is good, but we can’t take anything for granted. Many of our supporters are not used to voting (either because they have not lived in the country for long, have recently turned eighteen, or never bothered before), so mobilisation of our vote is a great challenge. We meet many that agree with the need for a new worker’s alternative.

”I simply couldn’t believe such a party existed. It’s fanastic!” one Bosnian immigrant told our canvassers, after reading our leaflet. Steelworkers in Luleå told our campaign workers, “There’s quite a few of us [at the factory] who are going to vote for you this time.”

Marxist election campaign

Our campaign has been very successful so far, with 1,000 copies of our three election manifestoes (local editons for Umeå, Luleå and Haninge) sold every week of the campaign so far. We have also recruited 19 new members to the party so far, mostly youth.

It’s workers, especially women, immigrants, youth and pensioners who have seen through the traditional parties. The mood is much more open than in 2002. Even a week before the election many are still prepared to listen, not “fed up with politics” as in previous elections.

Our party’s main demand is improved wages and working conditions in the health sector, childcare, schools and elderly care. We explain the need for struggle, and point to successful campaigns where we have stopped cuts and attacks. We campaign for the need for a new workers’ party with socialist policies and representatives on a worker’s wage.

Our target, besides votes, is to build our party, raise consciousness about socialist policies and prepare for the struggles coming after the election, including new political openings. Once elected, our representatives act as “spies on behalf of the people” in the council chamber – an expression used by our councillors in Luleå in a newspaper interview. We aim to initiate and support workers’ struggles.

Most things now point to an “Italian” or “German” result, with both blocs running neck and neck. A right-wing victory, especially if combined with an economic downturn, could mean a heightened level of confrontation and struggles at an earlier stage. One key element is the role of the trade union leaders, who will try to hold back struggle. But this will not be possible forever. Whichever bloc wins, or if a cross-bloc government is formed involving the social democrats together with one or more Alliance party (as Persson has hinted). Sweden will enter a new phase of struggle in the coming period.

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September 2006