Sweden: The bin strike – a victory for all workers

Militant action gets results

A two-day unofficial wildcat strike was all that was needed for bin collectors in Stockholm to win an important victory in the battle against wage cuts and the race to the bottom. The strike began on Friday 6 February and continued the following Monday, at which point the bosses capitulated.

The bin collectors were striking against planned wage cuts, following the granting of the bin contract in three districts to a company called Liselotte Lööf AB. The new contract meant that the bin collectors would work more for less pay. Monthly salaries, instead of a points system (pay per collected item) would have meant a pay cut of 10,000 kronor (€1,000) per month. In one district, the number of bin trucks was to be reduced from six, to five. There was a danger that this would set a precedent for future tenders and therefore the rubbish collectors for the entire city went on strike, calling for:

  • The use of a modernised and updated points system
  • A workload restriction of 265,000 points (currently each worker has 300,000)
  • All new bins should be tested, approved and assigned points on the scale before collection can begin
  • Permanent employment, guaranteed for everyone upon the change of contractors. The same condition applies for the renewal of a contract and applies to all companies.
  • No victimisation after the strike (no sackings).

Members of Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (RS – CWI in Sweden) were on site when the strike began. There was full participation in the strike: every single one of the 60 rubbish trucks in Stockholm city stood still, parked at the picket line. In the middle of the trucks, 150 bin collectors gathered, determined to hold out and strike until their demands were satisfied. The effects of the strike were immediate and brutal, as piles of rubbish grew over the weekend.

On the second day of the strike, the Monday, participation was still 100%. Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna had contacted other militant unions, like the northern miners’ unions, who sent a message of support which was met with resounding applause, as the second day of action began. Later the same day, bus driver and RS member, Petri Myllykoski, arrived with four signed petitions in support of the strike.

”The ‘traffic’ branch (of the local authority employees’ union in Stockholm) could not, as an organisation, declare support at their AGM. It isn’t allowed, but everyone who was at the meeting signed the petition as an individual”, Petri informed them in his speech.

During the strike’s second day, the employers announced that they had started proceedings against the strikers in the Labour Court and threatened fines of €400 per person. The workers’ response was, ”Then we continue to strike!”

A great victory

After preliminary talks and a promise that almost all of their demands would be met, the strikers called a general meeting for the morning of Tuesday the 10 February, where they decided to go back to work.

”There won’t be any wage cuts, the points system is still in place. There won’t be an increase in workload. All the strikers are keeping their jobs, the company has withdrawn its complaint at the Labour Court and there won’t be any fines. We will get paid for the strike days, and we are now collecting all the rubbish that has piled up. We have also been given a positive indication about the workload limit”, one of the strike organisers told Offensiv (RS newspaper)

The exact details of the agreement are still not quite clear. First, the bin collectors will collect the rubbish and then they will negotiate. ”But if the employers don’t follow through with their verbal promises, then we will immediately restart the strike”, commented one worker.

”We see ourselves as an example for other workers”, says one worker and one cannot but agree with that statement. The strike is a victory for the entire working class – it showed great determination and unity. The strike was extremely democratic. Decisions were made by the striking workers themselves, which is, in itself, another kick in the teeth to the bureaucratic structures which often control workers’ struggles.

The strike is also a victory over the policies of the right. The governing conservative coalition in Stockholm City supported the rubbish companies throughout the dispute and agreed with the wage cuts. Ulla Hamilton, the right-wing local government commissioner for traffic, actively and vocally criticised the strike and refused to condemn the companies who are responsible for the refuse collection problems, which Stockholm residents have had to experience.

Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna is calling for her immediate resignation and for the bin collection service to be taken into the control of the city council once more.

Since the strike, several of the protestors have promised to speak at and participate in RS meetings and 11 strikers have subscribed to our paper.

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February 2009