ICC leaflet on the transport strike in Sweden
We are publishing here a leaflet distributed by our section in Sweden during a workers’ struggle at SL-Connex public transport (SL is a state company that has recently contracted out a number of its functions to private firms like Connex).
This strike was part of a wider movement among Swedish workers – none of them particularly powerful in themselves, but still expressions of a general revival of struggles that has been going on across the world over the past two years.
During the autumn, there have been at least three industrial actions in Sweden. One of them took place at two hospitals in two towns (Malmö and Umeå), where part of the staff has been involved in actions against the increased levels of exploitation imposed on workers in the health services (these hospitals are still operated by “public administration”).
Another, perhaps more ‘spectacular’ industrial action, took place at a petrol refinery on Sweden’s west coast, in Lysekil, where around 200 construction workers of Thai origin went out on a wildcat strike against horrible working conditions. These workers expressed a very high level of combativity and courage: they were immediately threatened by the construction enterprise that employs them to build the Preem refinery that they would be sacked within a few days, sent ‘home’ to Thailand and replaced by workers from the Philippines. The workers were fighting to get the wages they were promised by the construction enterprise (an Italian firm), which the company refused to pay. At the same time, since it’s so obvious that the conditions are so horrible, the trade union at the refinery as well as the building workers’ union (both part of the LO union federation) claimed that they stood in ‘sympathy’ with the ‘foreign’ workers, and urged Preem, the refinery enterprise, to “respect Swedish work agreements and rules”, something that the management of Preem declared that they indeed do. So both the management of Preem, and the Swedish trade unions, accused the Italian enterprise that hired the Thai workers of not respecting the “fine Swedish tradition of collective agreements”. In fact the Swedish trade unions did nothing to really support these workers. They remained isolated in their strike, which ended after around 10 days (in late September/beginning of October), after the workers were promised that they would receive their money and be able to continue work. However, that turned out to be a lie: most of them didn’t get their money, and most of them were sent ‘home’ and replaced by other workers from Asia.
Then came the strike at Connex-SL, a bit less than a week later. The board of Connex announced that they wanted to sack a rank and file union representative for being ‘disloyal’ to the enterprise. Many workers there were rightly extremely upset about the provocative way they wanted to fire him, but this action also served as a basis for a mobilisation of the unions in Sweden in a way we have not seen for many years. A three hour strike occurred, backed unofficially by the rank and file unionists and even the unions (even if they were obliged to not sanction them officially). But the class content of the strike (a response to victimisation) was derailed into a defence of “freedom of speech” and of course, into a call to “defend the union” as the decision of the management was an “attack on everything the union represents” as the chairman of SEKO (LO) would have it. After the strike took place (6th of October) there were some meetings and a demonstration, where the policy of the unions was to attack the enterprise and to denounce “privatisations”. There have also been threats from the unions (both LO and SAC, the anarcho-syndicalists) to launch a “political strike”, so the unions have really been radicalising their language in order to deal with this growing discontent from the workers.
The ICC intervened with this leaflet at a demonstration, called by SEKO, that took place in Stockholm on the 20th of October.
Strikes at Connex-SL: To defend their class interests, workers have to confront the unions
Since the spring of 2003, there has been a re-emergence of class struggle in a number of countries in the heartlands of capitalism. During 2003 there were big demonstrations and strikes in France that involved hundreds of thousands of workers protesting against serious attacks on their pensions. There were similar movements in Austria.
In 2004 there were important strikes in the German car industry (GM-Opel/Mercedes/Chrysler) but also in other sectors, all of which put the question of solidarity at the centre of the struggle against sackings and wage cuts.
In 2005, during the peak of the summer anti-terrorist campaigns, we saw wildcat strikes at London’s Heathrow airport. Workers at British Airways went out on strike in defence of sacked catering workers
In Sweden there is growing anger against sackings, reduced wages and increasingly inhuman conditions of work. Workers have taken action at the hospitals in Malmö and Umeå; there was a wildcat strike of building workers at the Preem refinery in Lysekil, where hundreds of temporary workers went on strike against inhuman working conditions.
Now we can see this anger growing stronger with the Connex-SL workers. They tried to defend themselves when a trade union official was sacked in a provocative manner because he had “damaged and been disloyal to the enterprise” when he made critical comments to the media over security at the company.
There is no question that working conditions at Connex-SL have deteriorated, as they have done in many other companies. Some years ago a tube driver was sacked and personally accused and convicted for an accident where a worker died, when the real cause was the lack of workplace security, for which the company is responsible.
But at that time neither SEKO nor any other union was talking about strikes or action, which shows the hypocrisy of the unions when they today talk loudly about ‘solidarity’. This only underlines the necessity of fighting against the daily attacks on our working conditions, carried out by the bosses with the help of the unions
In order to get results, the workers must confront the unions
If you were to believe what the unions and the bourgeois media say, the situation would be resolved if the SEKO union representative was re-employed. But wasn’t it the unions, among them SEKO, that agreed to all the deteriorations and sacrifices that capital has forced upon the working class? Isn’t it these very same SEKO representatives that claim to be “Proud of SL” (the transport company) but criticise the way that Connex does its work for SL? Isn’t it the “public enterprise SL” that determines the framework for the way the “private” Connex company does its work? Aren’t the Social Democrats on the company board of SL, which has given full support to Connex? These are the same Social Democrats that in the Landstinget (the Stockholm regional council) have given the green light to “deregulation” and to the division of public transport at SL into 5 different, competing enterprises (Connex being just one of these). These are the same Social Democrats who on the boards of SEKO branches claim to defend the interests of the workers. These are the same Social Democrats that have been in government for decades and have constantly attacked the working class. In reality, aren’t the unions on the same side as the bosses and the state?
At the same time as we see a growing anger and combativity among the working class in a number of countries, which shows that the working class is beginning to defend itself against the attacks of the bourgeoisie, the media and the unions are talking about the conflict at Connex as a question of the right to free speech, as if the working class had any rights within capitalist society.
The unions and the media, especially the leftist papers, paint a picture of the unions threatened and under attack. The chairman of KO has made declarations in the media that “The sacking of the union leader by Connex is an attack on the whole union movement”, and the workers’ struggle should be a defence of “freedom of speech” and “democratic rights”.
They try to derail the real anger of the workers against years of attacks on their working conditions into a defence of the unions and the democratic state.
They do that in order to hide that the fact that it’s the unions, together with the democratic state, that hinder the working class, either by signing agreements with the bosses and legitimising the wage diktats of capital, or through the democratic state’s legal repression against wildcat strikes.
SEKO’s talk about a ‘political strike’ at some future date, is done only to hide their sabotage of a real strike movement, that could unify all workers, starting in public transport but with the prospect of involving all workers, in both the private and public sectors, in defence of their class interests.
The bombastic rhetoric of SEKO can’t hide the fact that in reality they ensured that the struggles which occurred on 6 October were stopped with a 3-hour strike. This undermined the long standing discontent of the workers at Connex-SL, and at the same time SEKO (and LO) can present themselves as more pro-worker without taking any kind of legal responsibility for the strike.
The struggle of the working class is always political when it confronts the capitalist class, its laws and its STATE.
It’s the crisis of capitalism that forces the bourgeoisie to attack
The deterioration of working conditions, the attacks on wages, sackings or threat of sackings, all this is not something that only the workers at Connex-SL face, and these threats wouldn’t be lessened if SL was operating the services in its own name, without “entrepreneurs” like Connex, Citypendeln, or Swebus!
The leftists and the unions are trying to fool us that the situation would be much better, both for the workers at the company and for the passengers, if SL still operated the company as a so-called “public” administration.
As if the workers at a number of hospitals that still operate under “public administration” have better work conditions. Active expressions of discontent recently at hospitals in Malmö and Umeå contradict that myth.
Another myth spread by the bourgeoisie is that workers in the “private sector”, especially industrial workers, have such good conditions and are so overpaid that they don’t give a damn for the conditions of the workers in the public sector. This kind of rumour is of course spread in order to divide the workers.
In reality, the workers in the “private sector” are also being ferociously attacked. Every day we are witnessing new lay-offs: among the latest are 1500 to go at Volvo Cars, and the Electrolux factory in Mariestad is to close. Each month thousands of workers are threatened with unemployment!
All of this makes it imperative for the working class to reflect about the disastrous perspective that capitalism holds for the working class and humanity as a whole.
Between 1968 and the late 1980s, workers all around the world struggled against the crisis of capitalism. A characteristic of that struggle was that it often directly challenged the unions and their division of workers into different sectors. Workers often challenged the attempts by the unions and leftists to put workers in the public sector against workers in the “private sector”. A second characteristic of that struggle was that the working class tried to extend its struggle beyond the local branch or sector to other sectors of workers. This struggle indeed challenged the power of the bourgeoisie and its union auxiliaries.
The working class must re-appropriate these experiences! Workers must wage a unified struggle against the assaults of capital and the deterioration of their living standards. The question of solidarity is a question of life and death for us, but it can’t be left to the trade unions, and it can’t take the form of support for the unions, precisely because it’s the unions that pin our struggles down!
Internationell Revolution, section of the ICC in Sweden