The battle between the Social Democrats and the country’s major companies has been brewing for some days. The burning question, according to Ulvskog, is that the companies which have made record profits are now choosing to make multi-billion kronor payouts to shareholders instead of investing in jobs.
“Why are they not investing in Sweden during this election year? Is it a threat? You don’t need to be especially conspiratorial to believe that the major companies’ bosses are holding back from doing something which would make it clear that Sweden is doing well and that there are even more jobs in Sweden,” said Marita Ulvskog to TT.
Another example she pointed to was Ericsson’s decision not to submit details of orders to the National Institute of Economic Research.
“There’s something very odd about this. They normally give their figures to the Institute so they can make their forecasts – which right now show that things are very much on the up.”
Every time Sweden approaches an election, Ulvskog maintained, part of the large firms’ operations are dedicated to “activist politics and canvassing”. She noted that in 1998 101 directors signed an open letter opposing tax reforms, and in 2002 Ericsson threatened to move its head office to London.
The Social Democrats’ party secretary is irritated that corporate leaders saw the recent comments on company ownership by Göran Persson as a veiled threat.
After the managing director of Ericsson, Carl-Henric Svanberg, said that a change of government in the autumn would be ‘revitalising’ for Sweden, the prime minister questioned the existing system of A and B shares. The chairman of Investor, Jacob Wallenberg, said he regretted the “threat” from Persson.
“That is absolutely not a threat,” said Ulvskog, who returned the allegation by saying that there was a sense of menace in the company bosses’ reaction.
“When they say that they are threatened by the terms of the political debate, they demonstrate the fact that they are used to withdrawing to an isolated board room when they lose an argument,” she said.
“If the big companies want to play politics it is fair that they show how they justify their own power structures,” continued Ulvskog.
“There is a strong argument for having A and B shares, because we believe in a ‘blue and yellow’ enterprise spirit. We believe that it’s good for jobs and domestic investments.”