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Swedish union 'flouts members' wishes'

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Swedish union 'flouts members' wishes'
Karl-Petter Thorwaldsson and Stefan Löfven at the LO annual meeting. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT
15:08 CET+01:00
Sweden's blue-collar trade union confederation LO on Thursday said it aimed to bring its members back to the Social Democrat party ahead of EU and national elections. The move provoked an immediate backlash.

Half of the Swedish Trade Union Confederation members voted for the union's traditional ally the Social Democrats in 2010, a percentage the unionists now want to increase to 60 in national elections in September. Spokesman Tobias Baudin also said at the confederation's annual meeting that they hoped to get half of all members to go to the ballot box in May for the European parliament elections. 

"Another Europe is possible," Social Democrat leader and former welder Stefan Löfven told news agency TT on the sidelines of the meeting. 

Some representatives of LO's 14 member unions said the continued support for the Social Democrats was problematic,as their members had clearly chosen not to support the labour party. The confederation gives about six million kronor ($920,000) annually to the opposition party, which lost its grip on power in 2006. 

"It's a question of decency that you don't give money to one party," Transport Union head Lars Lindgren told the Dagens Industri business daily on Thursday. 

LO head Karl-Petter Thorwaldsson nonetheless celebrated the historic but now weakened ties between the party and the union.

"When there is a strong headwind blowing we know we have a political friend that we can always call," he said. "They can't always deliver, that's not how politics works, but we know they are on our side." 

Tuning into his members' wishes, however, Thorwaldsson said the number one priority was to return to a "decent" level of salary insurance payments, which was one of several focus areas revealed on Thursday for the political year ahead. It is the first time LO has produced an election manifesto. 

It included state-level investment in energy, infrastructure, and housing. It reiterated the much-touted Social Democrat line of promising young job seekers either employment or an internship or further education. They also demand that Sweden tear up the Laval Law, which has allowed foreign workers to circumnavigate Swedish collective bargaining agreements while working in Sweden.

The unionists also argued that all employees have the right to work full-time, a key issue for many women employed in lower-pay jobs including in healthcare. The state should also step in and distribute more money to Sweden's counties and municipalities, LO's election charter stated. Also on local government level, publicly financed but privately run free schools should not have the right to set up where its owners want. 

The critics did not hold back. 

In the op-ed pages of the tabloid Aftonbladet, Moderate Party parliamentarian Jessica Polfjärd said that not only was LO not listening to the 750,000 members who did not vote for the Social Democrats last time around, but that the party's proposed policies were in her view detrimental to them. 

What do painters and construction workers think of restricting the tax-deduction in their field? What do transport and retail workers think about raising truck duties?," she asked as she ploughed through several of the LO unions' core members. "What do hotel workers think about doubling the restaurant VAT which would jeopardize their jobs?" 

"Why don't you listen to your members?" Polfjärd concluded in her open letter to Thorwaldsson. 

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