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   Vol. 68/No. 22           June 7, 2004  
 
 
A glimpse of ‘Swedish socialism’:
unpaid labor is ‘practical education’
(As I See It column)
 
BY BJÍRN TIRS╔N  
STOCKHOLM, Sweden—At the meatpacking plant where I work here, the bosses started early this year using a new method for increasing their profits: unpaid probation. Of course, they use a euphemism to describe it, calling it “practical education,” in order to confuse workers. Under this program, you work for four weeks without pay. At the end of the month, you may get a paid job, but you remain on probation.

While on unpaid probation, workers have to go the social welfare agency to plead for aid, which is not guaranteed. In practice, this means going to this office repeatedly to explain why you need financial assistance.

In Sweden, as in many other imperialist countries, the costs of rent, food, clothing, and transportation are rising for most working people.

One worker at the plant, a Palestinian who is my age, 22, was among the first to be subjected to this unpaid probation. This worker, who asked that his name not be used, was convicted on a minor infraction about a year ago. The court, however, did not hand down the sentence until after he started his Swedish “practical education.” Things worked out well for the boss. It turns out that the Palestinian worker could finish his four weeks of unpaid labor before he started serving his seven months behind bars. The boss and the judge worked well together.

This new way of exploiting workers is a fine example of Swedish capitalism. It doesn’t exactly fit the image of “Swedish socialism” that the ruling Social Democracy and its associates around the world have tried to promote.

This young Palestinian was the first to suffer this indignity in the plant. Many more will experience the class reality of Sweden before working people start using their unions more effectively and transform them into revolutionary instruments of struggle to defend the interests of the entire working class.

Bj÷rn TirsÚn works in a meatpacking plant in Stockholm and is a member of Livs, the food workers union.  
 
 
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