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Vol. 76/No. 15      April 16, 2012

The ‘Swedish model’:
work harder, get less
STOCKHOLM—The image of the “Swedish model” is typically associated with a big, benevolent welfare state with free and universal public services and massive government employment, predicated on heavy taxation and support from large labor unions.

The term “Swedish model” has also in recent years been used in the capitalist press to ironically describe the progress made by Sweden’s capitalist rulers in cutting government expenditures by slashing away at the living standards of working people. They have come up with some “innovative” methods for accomplishing what many capitalist governments are carrying out around the world. And so far they have done it without engendering much resistance in Sweden.

Like in the rest of the world, working people here are bearing the brunt of the capitalist crisis. One thing they are learning in the process is that their benefits and entitlements are not actually “theirs” at all. They can be taken away. This lesson is part of overcoming a mentality of dependency on the capitalist state and its bureaucracy. For the working class, this is essential for building the self-confidence, combativity and class independence that is necessary to mount an effective fight against the unrelenting assault by the bosses and their government.

This was all brought into relief for this author during a recent visit home after being abroad for nearly two years.

While waiting for the bus one morning the icy and slippery road made the driver skip the stop in the roundabout and stop further up ahead. We had to walk a little ways. Once on board, the driver took the mike: “Sorry about that, folks. But if I’m going to work till I’m 75, I need to spare my arms.”

“It’s a big problem that people think their retirement age is 65,” Prime Minster Fredrik Reinfeldt had said in an interview the day before, Feb. 6, with the daily Dagens Nyheter. “In the future we should expect to work until 75.”

The bus driver’s comment sparked a discussion among the passengers.

“Sure! I’ll stagger with my roller [walker] and distribute medicine to the patients,” said one.

“They never stop. They go on and on and on. The state is supposed to protect me. And there’s no point putting anyone else in there. They’re all the same!” commented another.

“My mother talked about times like these. But never in my life did I think they’d fall upon me,” said one elderly woman.

A pension reform in the 1990s made payments dependent on the performance of the economy and the stock market. An article in the Wall Street Journal in 2007 describing the change said, “Sweden has given its citizens incentives to be more productive and retire later.” It emphasized, “The bottom line of the Swedish model: Most people will have to work harder to reap the kinds of pensions their grandparents could take for granted.”

“It puts the cost of aging onto the individual, rather than onto society,” commented Sarah Brooks, political science professor at Ohio State University, in the same article.

Governments from around the world have visited to “study” the new system. Many countries in eastern Europe have adopted it. A book describing it has been translated into Chinese. The governments of Russia and Brazil have both adopted elements of it.

In the last 10 years the average age when people retire has risen by almost three years. At close to 65, it’s the highest in the European Union. Among imperialist countries it trails only Japan, Iceland and the U.S.

Figures show that 40 percent of the unemployed get no compensation, twice as many as in 2006. They have to live either with their family or apply for social security, which is means tested and not easy to get. Owning anything resembling an “asset,” like an old car or a house, whether saleable or not, is an automatic disqualification.

Official unemployment is 8 percent and rising. One in four young people is out of work. One in three unemployed has been jobless for six months or more.  
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