Union leaders told to “wake up!”
"This demonstration is a good starting point in the continuing struggle against right-wing policies. I hope everyone [will] get renewed confidence and fighting spirit, so that the struggle can advance forward!"
This is how an elderly care worker, Sanna Tefke, ended her speech at the 15 September Stockholm demonstration, with 2,500 workers and youth present, held at the start of the new parliamentary session.
With a predicted Swedish Gross Domestic Product drop of 5 % this year and youth unemployment on 30%, the conditions were present for a massive protest turnout. In the build-up for the demonstration, however, it was clear that the mood amongst many people is low. Many workers and youth, as well as angry pensioners, agree that “something must be done” but they do not expect protests to have an effect and therefore they are not yet prepared to get active.
Two years ago, 6,000 took part in a demonstration organised by the same group, the ‘September Alliance’. At that time, the right-wing government had attacked unemployment benefit and most workers hoped for the union leadership to organise a resistance struggle. But, far from that, the union leaders limited themselves to some verbal criticism of government policies and to hoping for a return of a social democratic government in 2010.
Since then, there have been strikes, including official strikes of nurses and dock workers, wild-cat strikes among garbage collectors, and by workers at a warehouse in south Stockholm. There have also been some excellent local campaigns against cuts in health care and education.
Members of Rättviepartiet Socialisterna (CWI Sweden) and others activists conducted an intense campaign for this year’s September demonstration, while always aware of the present mood of many working people and the breaking role of the official ‘left’ parties on developing mass struggles. If anything, the social democratic ‘opposition’ in parliament, which now includes the Left Party (ex- Communist Party) and the Greens, have moved to the right. This is taking place in a situation of economic crisis and with a government that is to the right of most other Western governments regarding state intervention.
Against this background, however, the 15 September demonstration was a success, gathering different forces against capitalism and the government. The main slogan on the protest was: ‘We refuse to pay for the crisis of capitalism!’.
"Sweden today has the lowest number of hospital beds among industrialised countries, queues for care are many miles long and patients are lying in corridors", Sanna Tefke said during the protest, attacking all politicians conducting privatisation and cuts.
Peter Boström, a union leader representing bus drivers in Södertälje, in the south of Stockholm, spoke against a propose ‘super-privatisation’ of local transport. The proposal for private bus companies to grab any profitable bus routes was attacked. Peter Boström called for a major trade union campaign to take back all public transport into public ownership.
Other speakers on the protest attacked the government’s economic attacks against pensioners and the also the threat of climate change and the damage being done to the environment (the Swedish government has just approved the biggest ever highway construction project). Linn Bursell from ‘No-one is Illegal’ criticised the deportation policy of the government. A student speaker gave examples of how students are being made to pay for the economic crisis. The leader of Sweden’s ‘No to EU’ organisation, Janerik Gustafsson, just back form a visit to Ireland, received strong support when he asked the demonstration to support Ireland’s ‘No’ to the Lisbon Treaty referendum campaign.
Dennis Bäckman, chair of a local branch of the paper industry workers’ union, and Patrik Olofsson, from a striking warehouse in south Stockholm, both stressed the need for trade union struggles to fight for jobs and for job security. The need for a workers’ opposition and for working class and youth struggle was the ‘red thread’ running through most speeches.
The last speaker was Arne Johansson, the main organiser of the demonstration, and an editor of Offensiv, weekly paper of Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI Sweden). He summarised the message of the demo:
"We are not going to accept the government’s continuing attacks and humiliation of the unemployed, sick, and old people, all those ‘without papers’ and against all workers and the low-paid. It is time to wake up!
"To the unions, we say: It’s time to wake up – stop retreating. Show the collective strength and mobilise the entire trade union movement for a national day of protest. We are prepared – without workers Sweden will stop!"
During the demonstration, nearly 100 copies of Offensiv were sold and 497 copies were sold in week before during the campaign for the protest.