BY CARL-ERIK ISACCSSON
STOCKHOLM, Sweden - Parliamentary elections will take place September 20 this year in Sweden. The Social Democratic government launched the election campaign April 14 by publicizing its 1999 budget. A year ago the conservative party, led by Carl Bildt, was at the top in opinion polls. But the latest ones give the Social Democrats about 37 percent, compared to 27.5 percent for the conservatives. Through campaign promises to increase social spending, the Social Democrats are seeking to deflect workers' resistance to high unemployment and attacks by the bosses.
Improvements in economic figures such as low inflation, modest interest rates, growth in Gross Domestic Product, and the prospect of a budget surplus have boosted support for the government in the polls. Based on this economic conjuncture, the budget projections include more resources to local authorities for health and education, as well as measures they say will create more public sector jobs. At the same time, both the social democratic and conservative parties have agreed to steps aimed at eroding state pensions, an important part of the social wage the working class in Sweden has won over decades.
The government has recently increased unemployment benefits from 75 to 80 percent of regular wages, and will raise the cost of living indexes for pensions this year.
The conservative parties and the employers are responding by pointing to the historically high unemployment of about 8 percent. They argue that cuts in taxes on businesses, slashing social benefits, and increased "labor flexibility" are needed to obtain sustainable economic growth.
The Left party, a remnant of the Stalinist Communist Party, is polled around 10 percent, which is higher than ever. It calls for a legal 35-hour workweek with no cut in pay and an end to the privatization of schools and other state facilities. Although there have not been many strikes in Sweden lately, contract negotiations have come close to breaking down more often than before.
The executives of some of the biggest companies in Sweden have joined in the conservative parties' hue and cry over taxes. The telecommunications giant Ericsson and the pharmaceutical company Astra have threaten to move their headquarters and plants to other countries, claiming that high income taxes make it difficult to hire qualified employees in Sweden.
To gain the parliamentary support of the Center party, which is based in the small agrarian bourgeoisie and middle- class "environmentalists," the Social Democrats have decided to decommission two nuclear plants. This has been opposed by the employers and by some union officials as hurting jobs.
Bonapartist figure Ian Wachtmeister has announced he will stand in the elections with a new political formation, the New party. Wachtmeister was voted into parliament in 1991 after a campaign in which he scapegoated immigrants for the economic crisis and played on fears and resentments of the middle class and a better-off layer of workers. Later, Wachtmeister resigned and his party split, but he remains active in politics.
Agreement on cuts in pensions
Behind the scenes, the Social Democratic party and other bourgeois parties have come to an agreement on a new pension system. The current one was established after a 1957 referendum during the postwar capitalist boom, over the employers' opposition, and was a big gain for working people in Sweden. The current pension system is guaranteed by the state and financed by employers' payments into government- administered funds. Pensions have been tied to a cost-of- living index, so that they provide enough for workers live when they retire.
The new system would be tied to economic growth and wages, not the cost of living. Some 2.5 percent of the funds are to be allotted to individual accounts for placement on the stock market or in other paper values. The bourgeois parties of every stripe try to promote this as a better pension system. The new scheme is supposed to be voted on by parliament early this summer.
Although Sweden meets most of the criteria to qualify for the European common currency, the government has decided not to take part in the project at the start. The conservative opposition led by Bildt is trying to take advantage of that to portray the government as isolationist concerning Europe and foreign policy. Bildt is advocating committing the krona to the European exchange rate mechanism as a precursor to joining the euro "at the earliest opportunity."
Carl Hamilton of the Liberal party argues that Stockholm will lose international influence by remaining outside the euro - especially if the British government signals its intention to join. Bildt is also pushing that Sweden should consider taking part in the NATO enlargement. The Social Democrats, for the time being, advocate a nonaligned foreign policy, but keep the door open for NATO membership in the future.
Communist League campaign
The Communist League is fielding Anita Ostling and Ernesto Oleinik as its candidates for parliament. They are using their campaign to speak out against the maneuvers by the rulers in Sweden within the European Union to take part in the encirclement of the Russian workers state, especially by trying to gain a foothold in the Baltic states. They are campaigning against restrictions on democratic rights like the right to asylum and against the scapegoating of immigrants for the economic crisis. The Communist League calls for open borders for all refugees. The candidates are putting forward an action program against the coming economic crisis, including legislation of a 30-hour workweek with no cut in pay, affirmative action, and the cancellation of the third world debt. Their campaign also speaks in defense of the Cuban revolution.
Carl-Erik Isacsson is a member of the metalworkers union
in Sodertalje, Sweden.
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