Somebody else on radicalism and activism within SAC

•December 8, 2009 • 1 Comment

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.”

Class struggle and storytelling

•November 10, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I read last night an interview with Alan Moore, an anarchist who has written some of the best comics of the recent past, including Watchmen, V for Vendetta, and From Hell. He discussed a little bit about the importance of story telling for radical movements, a theme which has come up here before, in my discussion of Kämpa Tillsammans’ use of the ‘workplace story’ as an organising tool.

I wrote:

“While traditional workers’ inquiries tend to be quite formal, often involving questionnaires and formal interviews, the members of Kämpa Tillsammans  chose instead to document their own (often humorous) work experiences, draw lessons from them and publish them on the internet. They deliberately chose the medium of story-telling because they wanted workers to engage with the stories in a way that is not possible with formal surveys. Kim Muller of Kämpa Tillsammans explains that they wanted to change the popular idea of what it was to be a worker; workers do not communicate with each other via “written pamphlets or leaflets but by talking and storytelling”, thus stories provide a far better way to develop a new workers discourse than dry analysis and documentation.”

Alan Moore had a similar point to make, although unsurprisingly, he made it far better:

“I think that if you actually examine the relationship between real life and fiction, you’ll find that we most often predicate our real lives upon fictions that we have applied from somewhere… Inevitably, we are to some extent creating a fiction every second of our lives, the fiction of who we are, the fiction of what our lives are about, the meanings that we give to things. So to some degree, stories are at the absolute center of human existence”

(in Mythmakers and Lawbreakers – anarchist writers on fiction, published by AK Press)

In my piece, I was counterposing the practice of workplace storytelling with that of the more formal workers’ inquiries, promoted by the Italian autonomia tendency. Many of the Italian autonomia writers were academics, and thus a rigorously formal inquiry into the ‘objective facts’ of workplace organisation and working class struggle in the big industrial plants  was a natural enough path to take, (This approach was mirrored more recently in Kolinko’s ‘Hotlines‘ inquiry into class composition in call centres). Kämpa Tillsammans’ approach was more subjective, they wanted something which was fun for workers to read and talk about. Workers swap stories and jokes all the time in the break room and on the shop floor, who would pass on an academic text or a piece of sociology?

Thus stories could be a much more useful organising tool – as well as passing on experiences and ideas, they carry implicit moral overtones, heroes and villains, which in turn justify militant practices and rebellion. Looking at stories in this way, as intrinsically related to our experience of daily life, has much in common with the trend in sociology towards ‘social constructionism‘, which places focus on the ways that social reality is created by groups and individuals. It’s no secret that bosses and companies do all they can to create a narrative of work that promotes responsibility and hard work. This typically takes the form of lectures and videos about ‘company values’, underscored by pathetic staff perks and bonus schemes. The success or failure of this attempt will have a big effect on the workplace collective, will workers identify their interests with the company and follow their narrative, or will they develop their own of subversion and rebellion?

New SAC statement of principles – updated

•November 6, 2009 • 1 Comment

Updated – Spotted a bit of inside info on

“Mattias Pettersson is the new editor of Arbetaren. He hasn’t started yet but I think it will totally change the way the paper works!

ATM: Half the paper consists of articles about climate change, The rest of the paper consists of equal parts of queer/gay/gender articles, Palestine/Israel/Hezbollah, theater/performance art and workplace/union/struggle articles. The paper often reports in a negative way about SAC workplace struggle and SAC internal affairs. Lot of reporters have been able to use it as a tool to launch their own projects and books for their careers to take off with negative effects on the paper and movement as a whole.

Future: The paper is going to focus more and more on workplace struggle and union reporting. It is also going to involve activists more and get a network of activists involved in creating articles and ideas for the paper. The idea is that we members of SAC locals should be able to spread the paper on our workplaces or even sell them in public without feeling ashamed about the material. No one I know actively sells the paper to people since they are not satisfied with the content and the crowd it is targeting (the red-wine and beret left).”

Too much SAC stuff in the last while… Hope to get some reports from Vår Makt up soon though, and an interview with a Piratbyrån member is in the works. Anyway, here is the newly updated SAC statement of principles. According to one SAC member:

“The old statement of principles was bloated and patched up from the half-reformism of the 60s through radicalization of the 70s to the peace/enviromental movement of the 80s to the introduction of feminism in 90s etc… it really served no practical purpose in the state it was in. The new one is politically sound, can be used as a basis for developing practical decisions and you can use it for handing potential joiners as well… never really worked as any of those in a long time.

New SAC Statement of Principles 2009

1. THE WORKERS OF THE WORLD are exploited in the capitalist profit-driven system of production. Under capitalism, the means of production have been monopolized by a few. They have therefore the social power to acquire all the wealth created. At the same time we, the overwhelming majority, are forced to work without power over the business, and for a wage which does not correspond to the value of what we produce. Where capitalism is allowed free range, violence and destruction are following in its wake, as well as a ruthless exploitation of natural resources that threatens the human environment and living conditions worldwide. From these circumstances arises the class struggle, in which the workers can only rely on their own actions.

2. SYNDICALISM is not primarily an ideology but a tradition of struggle among workers. We are driven by our desire for freedom and socialism. We nourish a dream that one day we will put an end to wage slavery. By building up industrial workers’ organizations, with the workplace as a starting point, we can mitigate the effects of capital’s exploitation and the state’s coercion, in order to finally overcome this inhumane economic and political system which gives all the good things in life to the exploiters.

3. DESPITE THAT THE WORKING CLASS today, as well as in history, is layered and fragmented in many ways, for example by industry, trade, legal status, gender, ethnicity, age, and employment status, SAC thinks that all workers have basic common interests. Therefore, the SAC consists of Local Union Confederation (LS) that organize all workers regardless of trade. As all workers have common interests, an organization that brings together all workers are needed. Through our organization we combat divisions within the working class and increase our collective power. If we are to hold together as workers, this requires us to act in solidarity. SAC understands solidarity as a common struggle for common interests.

4. THE EXPLOITATION OF THE WORKING CLASS takes different forms depending on where in the social hierarchy the work or workers are located. Heavily exploited groups of workers are employed to lower the standards of more established workers’ groups and migrants and the unemployed are used to press down wages. Women’s work is often valued less than men’s. This affects the workers’ mutual relationships in the workplace and creates tensions within the working class. The interests of heavily exploited group must be given decisive impact in the fight. No form of discrimination or subordination can be tolerated. SAC is a feminist and anti-racist organization.

5. IN SAC, WE BELIEVE unreservedly in the working class’, that is, our own, strength and skills. We do not need the blessing of power to give legitimacy to our fight or justify our existence. We know that neither libertarian socialism nor organization will be possible if we do not believe in our own ability. SAC believes that the workers must organize themselves free from any outside interests, like those expressed by the state and employers. SAC is an anti-authoritarian organization and sees direct action as the means to change society and our living and working conditions.

6. OUR POWER IS BASED on the way we organize ourselves. For a union to achieve maximum impact, it must be free from any interests outside of their members. In order to achieve maximum impact, the union must be organized in a federalist manner, which means self-determination in own affairs and cooperation on common issues. Centralism, bureaucracy, and other authoritarian forms of organization weakens unions. Our inner strength is derived from the principle that those affected by a decision should also be those who have taken it, and that all elected representatives are directly recallable. To avoid division in the workplace, and between trades, a powerful union must be organized industrially. Unions organized by trade are an anachronism. A powerful union must further more have the will to fight. A powerful trade union must also have the ambition to win their battles.

7. IN THE PRODUCTION OF GOODS and services, the workers have the power needed to change society. The social power of the working class is latent in the production process. Therefore the workplace is our premier venue for organizing. The labor market which provides the framework for the workplace struggle, must also be an arena of battle.

8. WE WORKERS HAVE NO FATHERLAND, our living conditions are intertwined with our sisters and brothers throughout the world. Global solidarity is a prerequisite for the liberation of the working class. SAC is opposed to all violence used by governmental and supranational institutions, as well as paramilitary groups, in order to maintain capital’s world order. SAC believes that workers always have the right to defend themselves against such violence.

9. SAC’S GOAL IS libertarian socialism: a society that is no longer divided into ruling and dominated classes; a society that no longer consists of exploiters and exploited; a society free from state coercion. In libertarian socialism, production is governed by society’s needs, which gives work meaning. The workers control the organizing of production, which gives the work content.

10. WE HAVE A BIG TASK ahead of us. But we know we can organize and win victories. We are fighting on our own merits, we struggle where we live our lives, so simple and so obvious it that. Only thus can we develop the self-responsibility that is the foundation of free socialism.

SAC and the Swedish welfare state – quote from Black Flame

•October 30, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Black Flame, the excellent new book by Michael Schmidt and Lucien Van Der Walt has a very good summary of the changes that led to the SAC’s exit from the IWA in 1956 (pps. 222-223). They introduce the comments as part of a section on how syndicalist movements have adapted to reforms and compromise. The authors seem to side with the SAC’s decision to distribute state welfare funds, and in this point I’m pretty strongly in agreement with them. From my side, it would seem very unpragmatic to refuse to distribute welfare out of adherence to syndicalist purism, and thus fail to provide members with the funds they need to survive unemployment. In my opinion, this approach to politics will soon end in irrelevance. What are your thoughts? Can anyone think of any modern correlates of the discussion?

“State welfare systems, which developed rapidly from the 1930s onward, also pose difficulties. Syndicalism stresses the importance of winning reforms, and much of the expansion of welfare is attributable, at least in part, to working-class struggles. Syndicalism also sees improvements in the material conditions of the working class in positive terms, and there is no doubt that state welfare systems have been critical, especially in the West, in improving the quality of popular life. Yet such welfare also serves to promote particular family structures (as, for example, when the state makes child support grants available to married women through their husbands) and foster a profound loyalty to the state asa the benevolent representative of the public.

A case in point of some of the difficulties is presented by the Swedish SAC’s situation; it was one of the only IWA affiliates still functioning as a union after 1945, in large part because Sweden had been relatively unaffected by the rise of dictatorships, fascism, and war elsewhere (although key members were interned during the war along with other “subversive elements”). By this time, the Swedish state was developing into a model of social democracy, introducing an extensive and expansive welfare system as well as a complicated system of collective bargaining. One aspect of this system (partly a concession to the Labour Organisation union federation, or LO, that was allied with the ruling Social Democratic Labour Party) was that the unions played a role in the administration of welfare, including the distribution of unemployment benefits.

Grappling with this issue, the SAC revised its programme in 1954 and decided to start distributing state unemployment funds to its members. This was condemned by the IWA, and the SAC left in 1956, with many feeling that the union could not compete with the dominant Labour Organisation unless it also participated in the distribution of unemployment monies. At the same time, while the SAC grew quickly, it also grew markedly moderate. Key SAC and SUF, notable the veteran activist Helmet Rudiger (1903-1966), headed a “new orientation” current that was not very different from that of mainstream social democracy; it included proposals for participation in municipal elections, stressed that the main struggle was against totalitarian systems, whether of the Left or Right, and is best considered in this period as a form of libertarian reformism, not anarchism or syndicalism.

From the 1970s onward, the SAC swung to the Left and syndicalism – yet maintains participation in the unemployment benefits system to this day. The existence of state welfare was not something that even large syndicalist unions, however purist, could not and cannot ignore. A whole range of issues arise here. Could a genuinely syndicalist union participate in a state welfare system? Could it even intervene in policy debates in order to change that system? Or were such forms of participation altogether incompatible with syndicalism? Finally, should state welfare be supported in the first place?”

Two videos about current squatting wave in Sweden

•October 9, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Here are two short videos about the squatting movement in Sweden. The current squatting movement is very young, it was very active earlier this year, went on a bit of a hiatus and is now back in full force. In contrast to the Swedish squatting movement of about ten years ago which was criticised for being too violent,  activists tend to have a nuanced approach to militancy, being confrontational without very violent. Somewhere between pacifist civil disobedience, and full out autonome madness.

We don’t get anything by asking nicely!

Sweden ends here!

Wikipedia on Economic Crash of the 1990s

•September 22, 2009 • Leave a Comment

From Wikipedia

“Sweden has had a unique economic model in the post-World War II era, characterized by close cooperation between the government, labour unions and corporations. The Swedish economy has extensive and universal social benefits funded by high taxes, close to 50% of GDP.[4] In the 1980s, a real estate and financial bubble formed, driven by a rapid increase in lending. A restructuring of the tax system, in order to emphasize low inflation combined with an international economic slowdown in the early 1990s, caused the bubble to burst. Between 1990 and 1993 GDP went down by 5% and unemployment skyrocketed, causing the worst economic crisis in Sweden since the 1930s. In 1992 there was a run on the currency, the central bank briefly jacking up interest to 500% in an unsuccessful effort to defend the currency’s fixed exchange rate.[5] Total employment fell by almost 10% during the crisis.

A real estate boom ended in a bust. The government took over nearly a quarter of banking assets at a cost of about 4% of the nations GDP. This was known colloquially, as the “Stockholm Solution.” The United States Federal Reserve remarked in 2007, that “In the early 1970s, Sweden had one of the highest income levels in Europe; today, its lead has all but disappeared….So, even well-managed financial crises don’t really have a happy ending.”[6]

The welfare system that had been growing rapidly since the 1970s couldn’t be sustained with a falling GDP, lower employment and larger welfare payments. In 1994 the government budget deficit exceeded 15% of GDP. The response of the government was to cut spending and institute a multitude of reforms to improve Sweden’s competitiveness. When the international economic outlook improved combined with a rapid growth in the IT sector, which Sweden was able to capitalize from, the country was able to emerge from the crisis.[7][8]

The crisis of the 1990s was by some viewed as the end of the much buzzed welfare model called “Svenska modellen”, literally The Swedish Model, as it proved that governmental spending at the levels previouly experienced in Sweden was not long term sustainable.[9]Much of the Swedish Model’s acclaimed advantages actually had to be viewed as a result of the post WWII special situation, which left Sweden untouched when competitors’ economies was in pieces.[10]

However, the reforms enacted during the 1990s seem to have created a model in which extensive welfare benefits can be maintained in a global economy.[4]

Internet Usage in Sweden around 2000

•September 22, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I think it was Altemark who remarked to me previously that he expected that one of the reasons that initiatives such as Piratbyrån and the Pirate Bay developed in Sweden before anywhere else was the high rate of internet access in Sweden at an early point, propelled in large by the Swedish government’s turn to investment in the emerging IT industry after the crash in the mid 90s.

Anyway, I was happy to find a quote which supports this in the Economist, Apr 27th 2000  (Nordic Netheads) stating:

WHO says entrepreneurs always go where the taxes are low? Sweden, where income taxes are among the heaviest in Europe, has become the continent’s hottest market for Internet start-ups, by some measures hotter than America. Over half of all Swedes are wired up to the Internet, compared with only one in five Germans. Stockholm, the capital, has 900 Internet companies, one for every 850 residents, and more than any other European city.

The article goes on to blather about the innovative anti-establishment spirit of these Internet start-ups,  and I’m forced to wonder how many of them survived the collapse of the IT bubble a year later?

This graph shows the effects of the IT bubble’s collapse in terms of very low growth in GDP after 2000.

Real GDP growth in Sweden, 1996-2006