Sweden: Outsourcing behind political crisis

Two ministers sacked, no change of policies


On 26 July, the four traditional bourgeois parties in the ‘Alliance’ declared they wanted a vote of no confidence against three ministers in the minority Social Democratic-Green government in Sweden. The prime minister responded by letting two of them go, while defending the third. Behind this was a privatisation and outsourcing scandal.

The Alliance parties’ demand meant that they took the same position as the racist Sweden Democrats, who were first in demanding the resignation of the ministers. Together, these five parties hold a majority in the parliament, the Riksdag. Such a situation has never occurred before and could have led to new elections, only one year before scheduled.

The origin of this rapid turn of events and deepened political crisis is the neo-liberal liberalisation and privatisation policy that both the Alliance and the Red-Green government are behind. The state Transport Agency decided in 2015 to outsource its operations of, among other things, the vehicle and driving licence register to the US multinational company IBM, which had made the lowest bid. IBM would primarily place operations with East European low-wage countries and Serbia. Neither the government nor the Alliance raised any objections. This is despite the fact that it was one of the largest outsourcing deals worth around SEK 800 million (€80 million). Before that, the Transport Agency had already begun to outsource several other activities according to the politicians’ wishes.

“We have a multi-sourcing environment with different partners in different areas and have a good balance,” said Daniel Karlsson, one of the managers at the Transport Agency, to the newspaper Computer Sweden on April 15, 2015, in a comment about IBM having been given the contract.


There were early warnings from, among others, employees at the Transport Agency and the secret police, Säpo, about this outsourcing breaking the law on national security, since there was no security checking of IBM’s staff across Europe. The registers concerned covered for example people with protected identities. In November 2015, Säpo requested that the outsourcing be stopped. This was known by politicians in both camps, and ignored by the Agency.

This was in a situation where the issue of “national security” and military defence, mainly directed against Russia, has been exploited as a campaign issue by the mainstream media and leading politicians for the last few years. So, when the media this June started to expose that foreign staff without security checking were handling sensitive documentation, all politicians wanted to distance themselves from any responsibility.

It is hard to know exactly who knew what. What is needed now is the end of all secrecy. But for that, an independent commission is needed and not an investigation that those responsible appoint to protect themselves.

It is right-wing neo-liberal policies that are responsible for this scandal. Everything was planned to be privatised when the Alliance parties ruled from 2006-2014 according to models from private companies. In the spring of 2011, the Alliance government stated that “it is desirable that a large proportion of government IT needs to be met by outsourcing”, as Computer Sweden wrote on May 23, 2011 under the heading “Government wants to see more outsourcing”. The Social Democratic-Green government is continuing this same outsourcing policy.

The Alliance and Sweden Democrats use this issue to push for more right-wing policies in general and a “truncheon policy” in particular. Ironically, it is two of the ministers targeted by the Alliance – Anders Ygeman and Peter Hultqvist – who have led the government’s massive increase in spending on the police and the military – “law and order.”

No change of course

Prime Minister Stefan Löfven’s response was to present himself as a “responsible leader”. “I am not throwing the country into a political crisis”, he said, in a situation when the country’s political crisis was deepening.

Through the government reshuffle and the sacking of two of the three ministers (keeping the defence minister, Peter Hultqvist) the government is trying to call the bluff of the Alliance. Do they really want to proceed with a vote of no confidence against the Defence Minister, who claims he had nothing to do with the privatisation scandal at the Transport Agency?

In reality, the Alliance does not want to take over government power right now, as they are split and lack support in the opinion polls. They would be dependent on support from the Sweden Democrats to get a majority, an issue on which the four Alliance parties are split.

The political crisis is due to the prolonged stagnation crisis of capitalism and neoliberal policies. Privatisations and cuts in welfare are not supported by the vast mass of the population and therefore neither government nor opposition has firm support.

It is possible that the divided Alliance parties agree not to push the demand for the Defence Minister’s resignation in exchange for new concessions from the government.
At the press conference announcing the government reshuffle, the prime minister and other ministers announced a more right-wing course, extolling their efforts in refugee policy (border controls, mass deportations etc.), military and police reinforcements and efforts to reach consensus with the Alliance. The defence minister, Peter Hultqvist, received particular praise for strengthening the military.

Welfare and other social issues were not given a single mention. Nor did the government refer to the privatisation policy that has led to the affair. It was a talking silence!There is no reason for socialists to see this crisis as a right versus left split. The government now has a certain short-term tactic – to use a tough tone against the Alliance. But in fact, Stefan Löfven often expresses the wish to form a government with one or more of the Alliance parties after the next elections. The two blocks involved in this crisis basically have the same policies and the replacement ministers do not stand for any different policies from their predecessors.

Against this political hegemony, there is a growing distrust from below with some ongoing struggles against the ravages and chaos of neo-liberalism. This summer has seen strikes by bin collectors in Stockholm and plans for health workers’ protests in September.

Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (Socialist Justice Party, CWI Sweden) calls for a struggle from below that can unite workers in healthcare, transport workers, patients, refugees and all those who suffer from privatisation failures, cuts and austerity. The struggle must also become an intensified struggle for a new, fighting workers’ party – for the socialist rebirth of the labour movement. This is the best response that socialists can give to the political crisis that has now deepened.

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August 2017