Found this interesting quote from Altemark on SAC’s history from an old thread on Libcom. It’s interesting because it ties the decline of SAC’s influence to changes in the Swedish economy and the social democratic compromise. What’s also interesting is his analysis of a pendulum effect between SAC being used for political activism in times of low struggle, and being used as a tool for workplace organising in times of increasing struggle.
“What is happening in SAC is not so much a radicalization such as a shift of focus in what kind of activity the activists devote themselves to. And of course also the political climate. Some short talking points:
In the 50’s and 60’s the largest trade union confederation, the social democrat LO had cemented the fact that sweden now was one of the most highly unionized countries in the world.
Saltsjöbadsandan reigned supreme. In 1938 LO and the swedish employers association (SAF) met in the town of Saltsjöbaden. The result was one of the most important definite manifestations of social democrat class compromise – Saltsjöbaden spirit. The core idea of the scandinavian model was very successful and the swedish welfare state “worked” for a couple of decades, yadda yadda
LO agressively worked to outmanouver the minority union SAC were it still had influence. LO and SAF were really up to some dirty tricks in this campaign, and much of SAC:s energies were tied up in trying to counter this. The Saltsjöbaden agreement also resulted in a highly formalized set of rules to handle workplace conflicts, and SAC was forced to divest its energies to fighting in the courts
The industries in which SAC traditionally had a sizeable share of the workers organized (mining, forestry, stonecutting) gradually lost their importance in the swedish economy. The industrial federations soon came to often just be names on a paper, formally still existing but mostly as old-timers comrade clubs.
As many movements do when times are harder, SAC came to focus more on politics than workplace struggle. Until the end of 60’s this new ideological debate often equalled reformist trends focusing on visions of cooperative businesses rather than general strike and revolution.
Now the reofrmist trend began to fade out somewhat with the appearance of wildcat strikes and increased militancy of workers in general. The continual drop in membership which had been going on since the late 30’s was broken. This did not automatically lead to SAC being a serious option for most working people
As I understand it, the revitalization attempts were carried on by small groups of workers within SAC, small struggles never without opportunity for generalizing into other areas of the workplace. SAC in the eyes of most regular joe’s & janes was often of some kind of leftist political organization, perhaps with some faint idea that SAC was the “good” kind of socialists, thanks to strong anti-stalinist and antifascist stance of earlier times. This situation persists to this day.
In the 80s SAC continued to be used as a platform for general political activism, mainly peace, anti-nuclear & environmental movement. SAC was now down to membership in the 20 000 area. In 90s the globalization movement was a common theme in activities
It is true that workplace struggle is an question more and more SAC members try to work constructively around – not being satisfied merely being the lone syndicalist at the job (even if this is very common still).
This trend seems to have cohesed into the idea of “the union reorganization project”, championed by “the new directionists” (nyorienterare) in the late 90s. They react against the tendency of “legalism” that is the legacy of the era when SAC fought for it’s life, trying to win in the courts and set legal proceedings against SAF and LO
Living in Sweden means getting the thought of the ombudsman directly in the mother’s milk, and SAC has not been immune to this. Self-activity has suffered, and the membership often relied on salaried negotiators in the smaller and larger industrial disputes that SAC in fact fought during all those years.
Some of this is talked about in this article from arbetaren on the SAC congress in 2002:
Hm, I think perhaps trying to explain all these problems and new developments within SAC in just one post is a little self-defeating. It is worth discussing for sure. It is a small union now, with around 8000 members. But perhaps the possibilities to become a fighting alternative are greater now than for several decades – if the positive trends within SAC can be capitalized on and generalized.”