In Sweden the Social Democratic government has launched an investigation that will conclude in mid-June to limit the right to strike. The head of the "Pappers" union has called the investigations proposals, which has leaked to some extent, a "custom ordered by the Swedish Confederation of Employers." We have seen similar developments in other EU countries such as Spain or France. This is not a coincidence but a part of a concerted push to roll back workers rights across the continent and across the world. What happens with workers in one place affects workers globally. That is why this is important.
We want to put an end to this attack on the right to strike. The proposal, while unfinished, basically comes down to the fact that if a union has a collective bargaining agreement, which already in itself takes away the right to strike, then this ban on striking will extend to all other unions in the workplace.
In order to understand why this is a massive problem we have to take a step back and look at the broader context of the Swedish labor market which has a relative high level of unionization in most sectors, dominated by unions controlled by the Swedish Trade Union Confederacy, LO which organizes around a million blue collar workers in Sweden. This union is heavily centralized and utterly controlled by the Social Democrats. Through this control Sweden has very few strikes, particularly during Social Democratic governments, and now we are at a record low number of strikes– which makes a limitation to striking is even more absurd.
There are, however, occasional labor struggles which to a great degree happen by free unions that have, typically for radical political reasons, stood outside LO. These unions, such as the Swedish Dock Workers Union or the anarcho-syndicalist SAC Syndikalisterna, are examples of free, radical union work. With this law they will be destroyed.
SAC is typically a minority union in every workplace it exists, but it tops the list of strikes and strike days every year in Sweden. It is used as a tool for precarious workers and radicals wanting to push for change and workplace militancy and has been a staple of the radical left in Sweden since it was founded in 1908. It politically opposes collective bargaining agreements since these in Sweden always include the clause that the employer has the right to lead and distribute work as the employer sees fit, a clause that is the cornerstone of class compromise in the country and fully embraced by LO. Since it signs no agreements SAC will be bound by other unions signing agreements with an employer, thus also banning strikes for members of SAC.
The Swedish Dockworkers Union is on the other hand a majority union in Gothenburg harbor with 80% of all workers there belonging to them. The employers, actually the Danish Maersk shipping company, have been attacking them heavily over the last years and is trying to destroy their union in a development very similar to one in Norway. This attack has resulted in months-long lockouts of workers, and a few hour-long strikes on various issues have been publicized by rabid right-wing press as reprehensible. This “conflict in the harbor” is what was the reason for the Social Democrats to propose this investigation to inhibit the right to strike, but it is a conflict by the employers against the workers and not even an attempt by workers to move their positions forward! Now, the LO union has formed a collective bargaining agreement with the employers in the harbor while they are a minority union and has locked out the Dock Workers from all influence which has led to a number of injuries. If this proposal is made into law then a minority union which has cozied up to the employers and made a collective bargaining agreement will be able to ban strikes by the majority union at a workplace as well!
There are further ugly developments in this story as well. The author of the report was overheard on the metro in Stockholm saying that the Dockworkers in Gothenburg “just wanted to cause trouble” and the minister of finance, Ylva Johansson, has already said that the right to strike should be limited.
We will, of course, not let this pass. We are not happy with the situation as it is but this attack will not just harm workers ability to struggle in Sweden but be a part of neoliberal attacks on the working class in Europe and the world. They can try to limit our power in the workplace, but we will show them that we can bring the strike to the streets. Thus, we will launch a huge mass action on August 25th in Stockholm and shut down capitalist interests and political groups that attack our right as workers to organize and struggle.
This mass action will be organized as a “five finger” action with different blocs as well as smaller groups each acting in solidarity but with different targets and topics. We encourage people to come and help us shut down Stockholm and to act together but with a diversity of tactics. Our action is just two weeks before the election and we will force this issue on the attack of the rights of workers into the public sphere. Our aim, of course, is not just to save the shitty class compromise of Sweden but to defend workers rights everywhere and to create a fighting movement where we not just defend the rights we have fought and died for during history but push forward to win new victories and create working class power in the streets and in the workplaces.
Join us in Stockholm 25/8.
Strike back - försvara strejkrätten