The platform of the new Social Democrat-Green government in Sweden, based on an agreement with two parties from the right-wing alliance parties (Centre and Liberals), is extremely neo-liberal and anti-working class. Now it is important to mobilise the greatest possible resistance. Struggles from below are already increasing, with dock workers on strike and protests from tenants, elderly care workers and others.
The 73-point agreement over 16 pages starts with the aim of “achieving system changes that can be stable over time”. It cannot be said more clearly: the neo-liberal system shift must be deepened, quickly and brutally. According to the agreement, the system shift will now be extended to cover labour laws and housing (de-regulation of rents).
The fact that there will be austerity policies instead of public investment in jobs, welfare and housing is clarified in the first point of the settlement; “The fiscal framework should be safeguarded”. This means continued straining of the public sector. The new government will also give up all proposals for profit restrictions in welfare. In 2016, the ten largest Swedish health care groups made a total profit of SEK 4.3 billion (400 million euro). In 2014–2017, the four largest private school companies made a profit of SEK 3.3 billion (300 million euro).
Instead of abolishing the hated system of profits in welfare, there will be new deregulations and privatisations, as well as continued upgrading of the military, which will receive an increase of a total of SEK 18 billion (1.6 bn euro) over the next three years.
The deal includes a tax for high incomes to be scrapped, lowered corporate taxes, wage subsidies to employers. RUT deductions (tax reductions for household/domestic services) will be tripled. The total cost of these new gifts to the rich and companies is estimated at SEK 30 billion (2.7 bn euro). The “green tax change” proposed is similar to the one that has caused France to revolt against Macron.
It is right-wing policies up and down, which the leaders of the two liberal parties also boast about. The agreed document is a single long tribute to the right wing’s “freedom of choice” and paeans to “entrepreneurship and entrepreneurs” are everywhere.
Attack on workers’ rights
The Centre Party and the Liberals are particularly pleased with steps to abolish Las (the law on employment protection). The Social Democrats hope that the threat of new laws will force the union leaders to sign a deal with the employers to worsen the present rules – something the union leaders seem prepared to do.
The settlement means a death sentence for the Public Employment Service, which is now being privatised. At the same time, major, serious deterioration in unemployment insurance is announced. On the same lines, jobs with lower pay for newly arrived refugees and long-term unemployed are expanded to companies without trade union agreements. More stringent demands for refugees and language requirements for citizenship are other long-time right-wing proposals that the Social Democrats are now promising to implement. The private ownership of forests will be “protected” and the shore protection will be loosened to create better conditions for “business activity” and summer housing for the upper class.
Left Party capitulated
The leader of the Construction Workers Union was among many on the left and labour movement with sharp criticism of the deal. On the right, Moderates (Conservatives) and the Christian Democrats accused the Liberals and the Centre Party of betraying their four party Alliance. The Alliance, however, could only have formed a government with the support of the racist Sweden Democrats, a step Liberal and Centre parties were not prepared to do at this stage. In addition, the deal agreed with the Social Democrats and Greens is clearly to the right of the Alliance government of 2010-14.
The Left Party was a support party in parliament for the previous Social Democrat-Green government in 2014-18. They achieved some good but limited reforms at the cost of supporting a huge increase of money to the military, neo-liberal budget rules and a refugee policy on the European Union minimum level.
However, it has long been clear the Social Democrats would dump the Left Party as soon as the opportunity opened up. The present agreement makes that explicit: “The agreement means that the Left Party will not have influence over the political direction in Sweden during the coming term”. Instead of mobilising against the neo-liberal policies of the new government, the Left Party leadership abstained in the vote in parliament, giving the government a green light. This is on the basis of it being a “lesser evil” and some “secret” verbal promises given by the Social Democratic Prime Minister.
This capitulation has also been presented as a way to block the racist Sweden Democrats from influence. But that is not at all the case. It is exactly the policies of austerity, privatisations and growing inequality that have given a basis for racist ideas, scapegoating refugees and immigrants. What can stop the right-wing and racists is not manoeuvres in parliament and secret talks. What is needed is massive extra-parliamentary struggle with mass campaigns, demonstrations and strikes. Now it is more important than ever to build a socialist alternative – a new large workers’ party and democratic struggling trade unions.
Dock workers on strike
With the dock strike and other mobilisations planned in the spring, 2019 has started in a much more fighting spirit than in the last few years. The strike is an answer to the attack by the employers on this independent and fighting union. The Dock Workers Union (short name in Swedish: Hamn) is not affiliated to the trade union federation, LO, but organises more than half of all dock workers. In Gothenburg, the biggest port, 80 percent are members of Hamn, and the rest are in the LO union ‘Transport’.
The Dock workers are striking for their trade union rights. The employers have closed down their offices, stopped recognising elected representatives of the union, only accepting Hamn as an appendix to ‘Transport’.
The employers have already won support from the government to limit the right to strike – in a country with the lowest numbers of strikes of all OECD countries! Now they want that law to be introduced earlier, to end the present strike. They have also answered the strikes with lock-outs.
Now it is necessary for union activists and workers to counter the position of the LO and ‘Transport’ leaderships, who actively oppose the strike. Already, a number of local unions have stated their support to the strike: railway, metro and bus workers, and others. Last Sunday, Hamn’s demonstration in Gothenburg gathered a thousand in support of the strike. This strike, and the threat against the right to strike, in addition to general discontent, will loosen the Social Democratic grip on the unions. The support for left-wing policies and an understanding of the need to prepare for struggles is growing in the trade unions.
A key field for struggles against the new government is housing, with the threat of market rents, housing shortages in 243 of Sweden’s 290 municipalities and lower standards caused by privatisations. Already, there have been many local struggles. In Gothenburg, privatisations have been stopped and the council has even been forced to take over flats from a terrible private company. Out of these struggles, Kristofer Lundberg, member of Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna, last year was elected chairman of the Tenants’ Union in the West of Sweden with over 70,000 members.
Today, rents are negotiated between the property owners and the tenants, where the tenants’ union is struggling to keep the rents down and provide security and influence for the tenants. It is this system that the agreement now aims to destroy, with devastating social consequences as a result. With market rents, it’s been estimated that rents will increase between 25 and 50 per cent depending on where in the country you live.
Kristofer Lundberg wrote in a widely circulated article after the government presented its programme: “The tenants’ union should now immediately act and seek alliance with the trade union movement and all those who are prepared to defend previous reforms. To stop this development, the people and labour movement must now make each residential area and workplace a battlefield against market rents, attacks on labour law and welfare. To prepare for the movement for demonstrations and strikes, mass meetings should be organised.”
Unite the struggles
Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI Sweden) members are involved in most struggles, with the aim to unite them for a national day of action. At the demonstration on housing in Stockholm on Monday 28 January, with 500-600 tenants, RS members Elin Gauffin and Arne Johansson, representing a new network, spoke in favour of continued and broadened struggles.
In Luleå, RS members are active in the “Elderly care uprising”, with workers in elderly care demanding more resources and better conditions. The campaign has received attention and support from around the country. Health care is another field of local protests with staff warning that cuts will lead to deaths of patients. Within the OECD, Sweden is at the bottom of the number of care beds with more than 10,000 beds less than 20 years ago.
Among young people, anti-racism dominated last year, with counter-demonstrations against Nazi marches and protests against deportations. At the moment, there are preparations for International Women’s Day 8 March and the global school student strike for the climate 15 March. An increase of struggles will start to change consciousness and understanding. In our new recruitment leaflet, we call for increased and united resistance, report from the many struggles we are involved in and link them to the need for a socialist society.
Sweden has a new political landscape. Social Democracy is leading a historically weak government. Upcoming government crises are embedded and inevitable. It cannot be ruled out that the government falls before the next elections in 2022. Last year’s elections were the worst ever for the Social Democrats; their vote was at the same level as in 1911. Now, it is almost inevitable that the Social Democrats are moving towards an even worse result and will probably, for the first time, not even be the largest party in an election.
On the right, the Moderates and the Christian Democrats are moving towards a ‘dark blue’ block with formal or informal links to the racist Sweden Democrats. Also in councils and regions, the parties have moved to the right. In 26 councils the Moderates and the Social Democrats rule together, and in a handful of councils even the Left Party is in ruling alliances with the Moderates. In several councils in the south, the racist Sweden Democrats hold power either as a minority or together with the Moderates and/or the Christian Democrats.
In the economy, the Swedish boom has passed its peak. This points towards new cuts and austerity in the coming years. Sweden is one of the world’s most indebted countries – not only with household debt, which has doubled in ten years and is higher than in the US before the crash 2007, but also a number of large companies, the entire real estate market.
Councils and regions are in acute need of more resources. Only in order to maintain the current level of welfare and with the same personnel density, an additional SEK 43 billion (4 billion euro) is needed by 2022. At the same time, billionaires, banks and big companies have record profits. Last year big companies gave SEK 251 billion (23 billion euro) in dividends to their shareholders. It is almost as much as the country’s health care cost last year.
There is a new situation developing, with increasing struggles and a radicalisation process. Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna is a small but important factor in the situation. By participating in the actual struggle that takes place and continuing to initiate campaigns, the party will grow and increase its strength, as part of the process towards a larger workers’ party with a socialist programme.