For the past
Workers in Sweden today owe their good working conditions to the country’s strong labour movement. A century of worker power has carved high expectations of working conditions into the bedrock of Swedish culture.
There exist rare cases today where workers without collective agreements receive benefits such as paid parental leave anyway. Even then, those workers are indirectly profiting from the strength of the labour movement which made those benefits commonplace. Organised labour is such a driving force in Sweden that employers still have to compete with the collectively bargained compensation offered by their competitors even if their own employees haven’t organised yet.
It took decades upon decades to build what we have today in Sweden. Many hundreds of thousands of people made untold sacrifices along the way. This is an important and successful social project spanning multiple generations. It’s something we should be enormously proud of and work to maintain.
For the present
Hard times are here. Cost-cutting and layoffs are everyday things right now. I broadly trust the people I work for, but there’s no collective agreement in place. I believe my employer’s intentions are good, but now is no time for wishful thinking. Now is the time to stand eye-to-eye as adults and make written, legally binding commitments.
I’m from a part of the world where union power was decimated by Thatcherism. Organising is still possible in the UK and groups like UTAW are proof of what’s possible. But the idea of a country where two thirds of the population are union members almost sounds like fantasy to someone like me. We have real power in our hands, right here and now. The question is whether we can find the will to use it.
While we’re deciding that, a newly elected right wing government is beginning the process of defunding key state institutions and social programs. The labour movement in Sweden has played an important role as a hedge against the slow unraveling of the welfare state since the 90s, and now is no exception. If you have private health insurance, for example, now would be an especially bad time to lose it.
For the future
My children will grow up in Sweden. One day they’ll need jobs. If the legacy of the boomers is that of a kind of asshole generation, pulling up the ladder behind themselves, I want my generation’s to be the opposite. I've seen first-hand what a weak labour movement and years of right wing cuts do to a country and I don't want my kids to have to work on zero-hour contracts at Biff's Pleasure Paradise. I want to pay forward with interest what workers in Sweden fought for over the course of the past century.
The future’s uncertain. The rise of remote work and the platform economy - both of which are trends my employer is a key driver of - each present their own unique challenges to the labour movement. It’s critical that we meet those challenges head-on, and I think my colleagues and I have a key role to play in that.
The company I work for is very influential in my industry. For the past decade, companies have looked to us for inspiration about how to organise the wage labour of their workers. I want the decade ahead to be about those same workers in those same companies looking to us for inspiration about a different kind of organising. I want the “Spotify Model” of the 2020s to be union membership.