Interview: Battle Stations
Unions: The Workers, United
Politics: The Lost Weekend
Industrial: Truth or Dare
History: A Class Act
Economics: The Numbers Game
International: Blonde Ambition
Training: The Trade Off
Review: Bore of the Worlds
Poetry: The Beaters Medley
The Locker Room
After the Action
Power and the Passion
Mao and Then
The Third Way Hits A Dead End
Unfair For All
What Is To Be Done?
Black Hawk Up
Sweden in the second part of the 19th century: a country of mass poverty, a country of mass emigration, still on the threshold of industrialisation. The enormous migration into the cities has just started. The natural resources are still underdeveloped.
The first socialist forerunners had made themselves heard, the flow of ideas from the continent had reached our borders.
Less than one hundred years later: a modern industrial state, on eof the richest in the world. A modern welfare state with a far reaching social security system, schools for everyone, exceptionally low unemployment despite fluctuations in the world economy, a people owning more cars, more telephones, more colour television sets than most, a people who travel more than perhaps any other people.
Two pictures. Two worlds. But the leap from one to the other is short.
The Swedish labour movement is often described as a tree with many branches. This flourishing network of political organisations and trade unions, consumer co-operatives and educational associations, temperance societies and other popular voluntary movements grew and spread during a century of efforts to bring about a better society. In Australia we are just beginning the development of community unionism (although certainly the green bans and the BLF set a remarkable example). The development of the Swedish labour movement has been integrally related to the popular movements, and we should be looking that way for ideas, as much as to the way US unions have been developing. Capitalism developed in Sweden through the 19th century and it wasn't a co-operative movement. It had the same ugly consequences for people as it did elsewhere in Europe. Mass poverty and social conflict were the order of the day. According to the International Centre of the Swedish Labour Movement, where most of this material is drawn from, the first real strike was at a mill at Sundsvall (Northern Sweden) in 1879. The strike, which was not organised by a trade union but by people influenced by the temperance movement and the free churches, was put down by the police and the army.
August Palm, tailor and agitator, came into contact with leading socialist thinkers and organisations when he was an apprenticeship in Germany and Denmark. He is seen as the founder of social democracy in Sweden.
In 1889 the Social Democratic Labour Party (SAP) was founded. Its first Congress was attended by 49 delegates, mostly representing trade unions. It was strongly influenced by Marxists, and Hjalmar Branting was elected Chairman.
Revolution by violence was rejected at this first Congress, unless the rulers of the country themselves provoked it as a "desperate measure of self help". The SAP directed its efforts towards gaining universal suffrage.
Hence reformism was closely associated with Swedish social democracy from its origins. Behind this was the idea that seizing power overnight was in many ways meaningless, unless you have conscious and educated people to take society forward. The slogan Educate, Agitate, Organise would fit well.
The SAP functioned as a central union organisation for the 1890s and much effort went into establishing local unions. This development led to union federations forming and causing a sort of identity crisis for the SAP. The union federations began to form outside the party and in 1898 the Swedish Confederation of Trade Unions - LO - was established.
The SAP Congress of 1897 was largely based on the program of the German social democrats. It was more in the tradition of Ferdinand Lassalle than of Karl Marx, and aimed to take over the state and transform it into an instrument of the labour movement. In 1896 Hjalmar Branting was the first social democrat to win a set in Parliament.
The First World War brought food shortages and social unrest to Sweden, despite it being neutral in the conflict. The Russian revolution and the collapse of Germany saw clashes between socialists and conservatives. The conservatives did give up their resistance to universal suffrage in 1919 and Branting formed the first Social Democrat government in 1920.
The popular peoples movements developed at the same time as the union movement, and are still a strong part of the broad labour movement, the community union mix.
The first were the consumer co-operatives. These had their origins in England, amongst the Rochdale weavers in 1844. It is organised in local and regional branches and united as the Co-operative Union and Wholesale Society (KF). It has gradually moved closer to the labour movement, despite its liberal, small business origins.
The union movement developed within it "associated organisations", for example of women or young people. They began when workers could not get employers to rent them places to hold meetings and they were forced to hold meetings in parks or beside the road.
The workers decided they had to have their own spaces and the first People's Hall was opened in 1890 in Kristianstad. In 1893 a People's Hall and People's Park were inaugurated in Malmö. These halls soon appeared around the country as the workers sacrificed a great deal to have their own place to hold meetings, dances, theatre and other entertainment, just as trades halls developed in many places in Australia. These remain important in Swedish life.
The women's movement also developed alongside the labour movement from this time. The first Social Democratic Women's Club was formed in Stockholm in 1892. The National Federation of Swedish Social Democratic Women developed from this club.
The social democratic youth movement also began in 1892. It soon split and formed its own party, to the left of the social democrats and was the basis of the Swedish Communist Party from 1917. In that year the Social Democratic Youth of Sweden (SSU) was formed.
The labour movement also had its own temperance organisation - Verdandi -founded in 1886.
People's high schools was one of the first items on the agenda of the new Social Democratic government and the labour movement, in line with their idea of reform through informing and educating. The idea came from the Danish example where the children of poorer people and peasants were given a broader education. "Brunnsvik", the people's high school was started in the county of Dalarna in 1906. The active support of the labour and co-operative movements made it possible. It was in Brunnsvik that the Workers' Educational Association (ABF) was formed, in order to stimulate the training and educational work of the labour movement. Study circles, public libraries and other activities helped this process through all the broad branches of the labour movement.
Economic crisis in the 1920s led firstly to loss of government by the social democrats in 1928 and a large rethink of how they approached social and economic problems as the world depression hit through the 1930s.
In wining the elections of 1932, the Social Democrats under Per Albin Hansson developed more aggressive polices against unemployment, concentrating on creating jobs at normal wage rates, unlike the rest of the world, including Australia, where wages were aggressively lowered. More money in circulation meant increased consumption, thus increased production and more jobs. An agreement with the Agrarian Party enabled this work to begin. The deepening of the welfare state also happened. Old age pensions, unemployment insurance, mandatory annual leave, public housing all had their beginnings, and all were opposed by the conservative parties. In the UK John Maynard Keynes was urging all this upon the political parties and bankers, to no avail. The New Deal in the USA was a pale version of the same ideas. Skidelsky, in volume two of his biography of Keynes, highlights how Keynes saw the way to rebuild cities and towns with arts precincts, rather than the government using the unemployed on welfare for ridiculous "make work" schemes. The Swedish approach came from an educated informed public, Keynes' ideas did not come from this same broad base. The commitment to people was reflected in the outcome.
The co-operative movements, educational associations and unions achieved success across the spectrum, with involvement and commitment in city and town planning, and attacks on rural poverty. The rise of fascism across Europe at this time was a backdrop to Swedish events. The fascists were active in Sweden as well, but the broad activities of the associated people's movements enabled Prime Minister Per Albin Hansson to declare Sweden the "People's Home" and it shone as the social democratic alternative to fascism and Stalinism. The union movement through the LO and the Employers' Association formed a basic relationship at this time, the founding of what came to be seen as the "middle way".
The Swedes were neutral through World War II and post war development saw further social reform under the Social Democrats, with a larger old age pension, health insurance, more annual leave, a new school system for all children and a national pension or superannuation scheme. The1960s saw the reduction in the working week and expansion of public services, plus five weeks annual leave.
Solidarity, community, equality, fairness underlay all these 20th century developments. The Swedes also saw the way to extend these principles to a world view that saw opposition to nuclear weapons, get support for trade union development throughout the world, and commitment to advancing and developing rights for all through large overseas aid budgets. The leader of the Social Democrats who most embodied this, and who was assassinated I 1986, Olof Palme established a commission on disarmament in 1980, a commitment to common security in the face of possible extermination by nuclear holocaust.
Palme is remembered for many things and the Social Democrats (SAP), the LO and the Co-operative Union established the Olof Palme International Center in 1992 (I think developing this out of the International Centre of the Swedish Labour Movement (AIC)).
The Palme Center and its member organizations are involved in approximately 250 international development projects a year. These range from civic education and organisational structure, to human rights and reconciliation projects.
The centre has a framework agreement with the Swedish International Development Co-operation Agency (SIDA), which finances the international development projects of the member organisations. Most projects are carried out directly by the member organisations, which together with their local co-operation partners are responsible for project planning, initiation and evaluation. This helps to create very strong local ties. The centre carries out relatively few international development projects on its own, except in the Balkans.
The centre also administers the International Solidarity Fund (the I-Fund), which is the labour movement's fund for international solidarity and development co-operation. All money collected by the I-Fund is used exclusively to support trade union and political development work.
(See http://www.palmecenter.se/article_uk.asp?Article_Id=1346 for the work of the Palme Center)
The International Centre of the Swedish Labour Movement (AIC) published The Swedish Labour Movement in 1989
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