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Swedish unions have become obsolete: leaders

TT/The Local/vt · 13 Feb 2011, 17:56

Published: 13 Feb 2011 17:56 GMT+01:00

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In the long run, wages should be set on a completely individual basis, Swedish manager organisation Ledarna Chairwoman Annika Elias wrote in an opinion article for newspaper Dagens Nyheter (DN) on Sunday.

As such, the Swedish trade union movement must modernise or perish, Elias and negotiation leader Thomas Eriksson wrote in DN on Sunday.

They pointed out that the unions within the Swedish Trade Union Confederation (Landsorganisationen i Sverige, LO) and Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees (Tjänstemännens Centralorganisation, TCO) lost more than 40,000 members last year.

The membership collapse is a result of an outdated view of collective agreements, under which wages are negotiated in closed rooms by people who never meet the employees, according to Elias and Eriksson.

"The idea that wages are best negotiated in a group is a long-outdated notion. It is a legacy from August Palm's days, when Sweden was an industrial society where large groups in the labour market had only gone to school for a few years," they wrote.

Palm was a leader in introducing the social democratic labour movement in Sweden in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The labour market supplies well educated employees who want and can make their own choices, Elias and Eriksson added.

Ledarna sees its own model of a local salary structure as a reason behind its membership growth of nearly five percent in 2010. The organisation stopped negotiating central wage increases for its members in 1992.

Instead of the collective agreements, the setting of wage rates is negotiated between employees and managers.

"We want to give people greater opportunities to negotiate their own pay and conditions at the individual level. We want to transfer power from the organisations to individuals and businesses," said Elias, adding it is "absolutely necessary" in the long run for wages to be set individually.

In response to how the weakest would be protected, Elias responded, "I think that it is a misconception that poor people receive greater support from the wage structure model we have today. There will always be people who are less attractive to employers than others, but it is already like this now."

LO Chairwoman Wanja Lundby-Wedin dismissed Elias' observations, pointing that Ledarna should not call itself a trade union.

"They are a good enough interest organisation for managers, but it is not a professional organisation," she said.

She finds it difficult to understand Elias' arguments, stating that it is wrong to say that wages are negotiated in closed rooms without transparency for employees.

"The whole idea with a union is that we do it together. Each individual does not have individual power. That we negotiate general wage increases through central collective agreements is obvious for a union. However, wages are often spread out locally and it can look very different," she said.

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TCO Chairman Sture Nordh also defended his organisation from the allegations.

"The illustration of how negotiations go with is totally incomprehensible. It does not take place like that. Workers settle their salaries individually in conversations with their bosses. That we would not support individual and differentiated salaries is naturally completely wrong," he said.

Nordh believes that Ledarna abdicated its responsibility as a union organisation when it abandoned the principle of central negotiations for general wage increases.

According to Nordh, TCO has not lost members and instead gained 1,000 new members in 2010.

TT/The Local/vt (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

20:03 February 13, 2011 by Nemesis
At least the union leaders are starting to admit the problem.

The union leaders oppose workers rights and support corporate rule at every level.
20:50 February 13, 2011 by calebian22
A union is not a union in Sweden. It is illegal to strike in Sweden except under certain very strict conditions. Management failing to honoring the collective bargaining agreement is sadly not one of them. Why would workers continue in a system that provides fewer and fewer security measures against management whimsy? It is not like it is free to be in a union.
01:07 February 14, 2011 by spg
I work at a hotel in a supervisor level. Although I am not in the union I have been told they still represent me and I have to abide by their rules.

At the moment the hotel and the union are not getting on very well as the hotel tried to move a lazy supervisor to another section of her department but didnt do everything to the strickest rules set by the union! (something which they should have known better).

Now I am from England origonally and in my line of work I understand I have to work long hours. After 23 years in my trade I have always accepted this and I have no problem doing it.

In my current job I actually see the extra hours register on the computer system and have the opertunity to take them out as extra time off, but still as the buissness has been busy, over the last year I have registered over 100 extra hours.

Now the union has been paying close attention to"their" rules and informed the hotel that I should'nt have had to do these extra hows so now ALL my hours have been wiped without so much as a "thank you very much for the free time"!!!!!

So why dont they stick their collective agreement up their arse and start to think about the people they are suppose to represent instead of trying to get one over on the managment, whom in many cases are very happy to look after their workers!!!!
08:50 February 14, 2011 by Kevin Harris

Your Union is probably the same union behind the infamous Wild n Fresh salad bar dispute several years ago. In that incident, the employees the union was supposed to protect ended up losing their jobs after the union picketed the salad bar out of business. Unions lost tens of thousands of members as a direct consequence, as members registered their disgust by leaving.

Does anyone know of an occasion when the Hotel and Restaurant Union actually did anyone some good? All I hear about those guys is a trail of bad news that gives unionism a bad name. It would be great to hear something positive about them for once.
17:31 February 14, 2011 by Staffs
Yes, it's the organised labour racket as run by the Mafia.

The Union leaders work for the Union leader's benefit, nobody else's.
10:25 February 17, 2011 by karex
During the economic crisis I saw several unnecessary lay-offs caused by Union demands on companies who didn't have the cash to fulfill them. They had no choice but to lay off the employees when they were prepared to tighten the belt and keep them. The Unions were living in la-la-land, acting as if we were in the middle of a economic boom instead of a crisis. Reminds me of an old Supertramp album: "Crisis, what crisis?"
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