Sweden: : Trade union activist not to be expelled

But Bilbo Göransson warned by union, Kommunal

Bilbo Göransson

”There are no grounds for expulsion” of Bilbo Göransson from Kommunal (the Swedish council workers’ union), concludes the official investigation done by the national union office. This was a welcome and positive decision for all those protesting against the threat of expulsion and demanding democracy in the union. At the same time, however, Kommunal has launched a new ”accusation” against Bilbo and issued a warning for the future.


Almost one year ago, Bilbo Göransson, who is a member of Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna, initiated a trade union resolution against the right-wing government. The resolution demanded a day of action on the opening day of parliament, 18 September. Later, the ‘September Alliance’ was formed to organise the demonstration, which became a big success with 6,000 participants in Stockholm.

Among the speakers were Harry Rantakyrö and Tomas Nilsson from the miners’ union in the north of Sweden, the author Maria-Pia Boethius and representatives from tenants’ campaigns, as well as Bilbo Göransson and other activists.

Kommunal, whose leadership had argued against ‘days of action’, within just a few days of the success for the ‘September Alliance’, announced protests every week in Stockholm and monthly around the country. These protests, however, have gathered very few participants.

Following 18 September, an individual member of Kommunal, active in the Social Democratic youth, formally asked for the expulsion of Bilbo Göransson from Kommunal. The basis for this was that Bilbo in a circular to young members of the union, had appealed for them to demonstrate on 18 September. In addition, Bilbo was accused of using different wage demands from those of the national union.

In December, Bilbo Göransson received a letter from a national union official, Christer Thilén, saying he was investigating the request for expulsion and asking Bilbo to reply to these accusations by 28 December at the latest. In his reply, Bilbo explained that his union branch had decided not to be one of the organisers of the demo, but had given a free hand for members to mobilise for it. On the issue of the wage demands he was talking about, Bilbo quoted Kommunal material to show where they came from.

Defence campaign

Bilbo Göransson got strong support – ”hundreds of letters” as a secretary at the union centre said – from trade union activists around the country, plus international solidarity from unionists in Britain, Germany and other countries. Most important in his defence was his branch committee declaring full confidence in him and demanding the investigation be closed. The same demand came from Kommunal’s negotiating team in Bilbo’s local area.

The letter sent from the union leadership to Bilbo, bases itself on a statement from the regional leadership of Kommunal that Bilbo has not yet been allowed to read. They apparently claim that Bilbo’s circular lacked approval from the region and the branch, although the region paid stamps, printing and envelopes. The national union’s decision says: ”means and resources were used in a way that was not backed up in the usual way”. The regional and national ‘leaderships’ are not simply investigating a minor affair on the request of a young social democrat; they are trying to use it as grounds to issue their own bull of excommunication.

The argument that Bilbo’s letter lacked approval in the branch was answered by the support shown by the branch committee. The fact that the region paid the costs for the letter is not unusual. The branch is the biggest in Sweden with 9,000 members, but, like all other branches, it lacks money even for circulars to the members.

New accusation

The report of the national investigation ends with a completely new issue: ”It can be noted that representatives of the national leadership have been in touch with you and made clear that activities such as participating in meetings of the ‘September Alliance’ in the name of the national union is not compatible with positions you have within the union.”

Bilbo Göransson has, in fact, never participated in the ‘September Alliance’ in the name of the national union. The branch agreed a resolution that he proposed against the policies of the right-wing government, in the name of the branch. But when the branch decided not to join the alliance as an organisation, Bilbo participated in a personal capacity. It was clear that Kommunal was not one of the organisers of the demonstration; Harry Rantakyrö from the miners’ union actually criticised Kommunal for this stand.

Kommunal never explained why the union is against participating in the ‘September Alliance’. Instead of discussing how to stop the neo-liberal policies – an urgent issue for every member – some leading people in the Stockholm Kommunal have spent their time ”investigating” Bilbo Göransson. The impression of a bureaucracy attempting to hide behind its incompetence and its political weakness is strengthened by its court-sounding decision.

In spite of how easy it was to confirm that Bilbo did not act ”in the name of the official union”, individual activists are now being warned against ”for example participating in meetings of the September Alliance”. Members are supposed to worry about whether they are personally allowed to take part in rank and file campaigns, apart form in the very few protests organised by the national leadership.

The report of the union’s investigation ends with a warning: ”Kommunal assumes, after contacts with you regarding this, that what has happened will not be repeated”. What should not be repeated, however, is the wasting of the union’s resources regionally and nationally on ”investigating” this kind of issue of expulsion.

Interview with Bilbo Göransson

”Trade unions must fight for their survival”

How do you feel about the result of the union investigation?

”Good. I’m grateful for all the support I have had, including internationally, and I’m very glad there will be no expulsion. But the decision letter is bad and looks mainly like a warning against fighting our right-wing government.

”I’m surprised over the accusation that I participated in the September Alliance ‘in the name of the national union’. It’s an accusation I’ve never heard before and it’s not true. I’ve been very clear that our branch gave the green light for mobilising, but could not be part in the alliance because of the stand from Kommunal’s officers.”

What are you doing in your union right now?

”I continue to be youth representative in the branch and have also been elected to the regional council of Kommunal. I’m also on the negotiating team in my local area – Hässelby-Vällingby.”

Which issues do you see as most important in the campaigning work?

”One is to organise more temporary workers and fight on their issues, such as higher wages and the right to permanent and full time employment. Fourteen temporary replacement workers I have just spoken to want to join the union; no one had asked them before. Another is to get more workers involved in the union, become shop stewards and go on union study courses.”

And how do you think unions should fight against right-wing policies?

”A key issue to deal with is the extremism of the Stockholm authorities in relation to privatisation. In my area, the three biggest workplaces – all caring for the elderly – are up for privatisation. We must find out what workers think about it. If we don’t act, Kommunal might have to change its name to ‘Private workers’ union’!

”The entire trade union movement must fight for its survival. It is tragic that bureaucratic officials in Kommunal try to smear those arguing for mass protests against the government. In the middle of this, however, our branch’s resolution for a national day of protest was agreed by the regional leadership. So the struggle continues”.

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February 2008