Paying dues to the wrong union

The revival this week of the controversy over the Vaxholm blockade pits the Swedish government against the European Commission. But it also raises the question of whether it is proper for a government to be sponsored by a special interest group – the union movement.

For those who haven’t heard about this one, a Latvian company, Laval, won the contract to build a school in Vaxholm, near Stockholm. The company paid its Latvian workers Latvian wages, but Byggnads argued that it should pay Swedish wages and sign a collective agreement. The union started a blockade of the site, leading to Laval filing for bankruptcy.

The government has supported the union all the way, but this week European Commissioner Charlie McCreevy said that he would oppose Byggnads when the case came to the European Court.

This issue is not cut and dry. There is an understandable desire on the part of Swedish building workers to protect their wages against cheap competition, or “wage dumping”.

Sweden also has a duty to allow people from other EU countries to live and work here. This is good for Sweden’s economy, and presents a challenges to Swedish companies to become more innovative and more competitive. More to the point, it is what Sweden signed up to when it joined the EU.

But perhaps the most interesting question the affair raises is this: with the enormous influence of the union movement on Swedish politics, how do we know whose interests the government is acting in?

The Social Democrats, who were founded out of the union movement have ruled Sweden for 64 of the last 75 years and received 85 million kronor from union organisation LO (of which Byggnads is a member) during the 2002 general election.

So when Sweden’s employment minister Hans Karlsson prefers to defend the protectionism of Byggnads rather than the principle of free movement of labour within the EU, it is reasonable to question his motives.

Again, when workers on the T-bana, Stockholm’s metro system, started illegal wildcat strikes this week, where was the condemnation from the Social Democrat administrations both in the City Hall and in central government?

A trade union organisation is just as much of a special interest group as any company. It may represent many of its members, but it does not represent the electorate as a whole. Therefore it should still be treated as one voice among many, like any other pressure group.

It could be that in the Vaxholm case Hans Karlsson is simply persuaded of the union’s argument. But his position would be a lot more credible if the organisation he is defending wasn’t the one that put him in his job.

Is the government too cosy with the unions? Discuss!


Tell us why Sweden needs foreign workers

OVER TO YOU: With threats to labour migration mooted The Local is inviting readers to tell us why Sweden needs skilled foreign workers. You can upload your videos or pictures via social media to be part of the debate.

Tell us why Sweden needs foreign workers

Highly skilled employees from overseas have boosted Sweden’s economy, yet the system that allowed them to come is under threat. Now foreigners in Sweden are being asked to stand up and be counted.

Maybe you have moved to Sweden from abroad and are working in a skilled job such as in the IT sector, banking or engineering etc. We are eager to hear your stories and fuel this debate which is already proving to be an election issue.

Don't Miss: Foreign workers in Sweden – In demand but under threat

It's very simple to get involved in this crucial debate. Just do the following:

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2. Upload to a social network, like Vimeo or YouTube.

3. Then tweet the video to @thelocalsweden with the hashtag #kompetensinvandring.

4. If the technology lets you down, you can also send your videos to [email protected].

We'll pick the best ones and may feature them in a future follow-up article.

The Local's Group Managing Editor James Savage gets us started below.

Why we at The Local need foreign workers #kompetensinvandring from [email protected] on Vimeo.

Or if recording a video is too much of a hassle then you can send us a tweet @thelocalsweden telling us why Sweden needs talented immigrants. Feel free to include a picture of you at work.

Don't forget the hashtag #kompetensinvandring, which is being monitored by the Swedish political top brass.