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(en) Sweden, A tough period for the SAC

From Mikael Altemark <altemark@home.se>
Date Sat, 21 Sep 2002 15:35:28 -0400 (EDT)

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

This article was published in Arbetaren no 37/02, which had the largest print
run since the papers staunch involvement in the anti-nuclear movement in the
80's, to be distributed to working class areas in Gävle, home of Joe Hill and
site of this years SAC congress. 

Arbetaren is a syndicalist weekly published by SAC - the syndicalists since 1922
(and thus celebrates it's 80th birthday this year).


It isn't just the nazi murder of the syndicalist Björn Söderberg and the
involvment in the protests against the EU summit in Gothenburg that has put it's
stamp on the activities of the SAC the latest congressperiod.

The organisation, which celebrated its 90th anniversary last year, has also
suffered from internal turbulence and low participation in important referenda.

But the activity on the job is also in its road to a new ignition, and the
syndicalists have thrown themselves into industrial conflicts of
non-conventional character.

Ingemar Sjoo, from the former Working Committee, points out four things that
before others have affected the organization since the last congress 1998: The
murder of Björn Söderberg autumn 1999, the taxidrivers strike at Arlanda airport
spring 2000, the Gothenburg demonstrations 2001 and the beginning of the "union

In any case there is no doubt that SAC has been more in the public spotlight now
than for a long time.

- These events together have led to that perhaps three times as many Swedes know
who the syndicalists are today compared to 1998, Ingemar Sjöö speculates.

He points out the SAC:s very visible and active participation in the Gothenburg
Action network as a "propagandistic triumph".

-	We got a very good reputation amongst other organisation, who perhaps
envisioned us to be a gang of anarchist loonies, but in reality we proved
ourselves to be very competent organizers.
The secretary of the SAC, Hannele Peltonen, wants to emphasize an aspect of the
Gothenburg events that haven't got the same amount of attention, namely the
European industrial branch-meetings that SAC hosted.

-	We have established better international cooperation with our sister 
organisations and have begun to create a global network.
As well Ingemar Sjöö as Hannele Peltonen believes that the massmedias picture of
the Gothenburg events originally cast SAC in a negative light, but that the
organisation has won out as the picture has become more and more balanced.

-	For a while many members were worried, but when people who weren't there
realized that we stood behind the peaceful activities they calmed down, says
Hannele Peltonen.

But what kind of picture has the SAC put up for the outside - is it one of a
union or more like a organisation concerned with general politics?

-	Before most people didn't have any idea at all who we were, so I think that it
is positive that people now know that we exist, says Hannele Peltonen.
For her, there is no doubt that it was the almost unrealistic time after the
murder of Björn Söderberg that was the most turbulent time during her four years
as Organisational Secretary.

SAC succeeded, amidst sorrow and worries, to mobilize giant manifestations
against nazism and received a seldom seen attention. This was attention of a
whole other kind than the suspect picture that was delivered in the massmedia
after the Gothenburg events. Diametrically opposite pictures of one and the same
organisation have been offered in the same newspapers during only a year.

-	Already before everything happened we had planned to reach out and take more
space in the public debate. This meant that we weren't totally unprepared.
Amongst the positive things that have happened, Hannele Peltonen wants to point
out successful work with public opinion, the campaign against the proposed new
draconian version of the labour laws that the so called Öberg-investigation
produced, a campaign in which Björn Söderberg was very active.
We took part in creating opinion against the attacks on union rights and
freedoms and thus helped so that all of the new suggestions weren't realized.

There has been concern about possible galloping escape of members both in
connection to the Gothenburg riots - which sparkled quite a lot of internal
debate - as well as the murder of Björn Söderberg. However the concerns turned
out to be groundless. The consequence of the fact that nazis murdered a union
man and carried out a bombing of the SAC Industrial Secretariat in Gävle was
instead a tightening of the ranks in the organisation. In Ingemar Sjöö's opinion
it was even the traumatic autumn of 1999 that marked the end of SAC long period
of sinking membership.

Presently the amount of members is largely in a status quo, even though it
depends on how you count. Traditionally the rather large group of retired
workers are counted as SAC-members, even though they do not work or pay
membership fees. With the retired members in the calculations, the membership
curve is still sinking, but if one looks at the dues-paying membership the
numbers instead point upwards, and ends around circa 6500 members. The official
membership, counting the retired workers, is 7761.

One thing that is striking, and according to Hannele Peltonen one of the
organisations main problem, is the high throughout. About 500-600 people join
each year, but almost as many leave the SAC, even though it partly can be
attributed to a group of "sporadic members".

-	Here we have one of our big problems. This is why educational activity is
important - to take care of the new members, says Hannele Peltonen.
The SAC is good at agitating and being visible, and very many submit their
interest in joining. But somewhere along the line something doesn't click:
partly the Local Coorganisations (LS) in general are bad at following up the
interest and grab hold of the new members, partly the SAC isn't good enough at
involving new members in the activities and stay for a longer while, according
to Hannele Peltonen.

Some very deep changes can be seen in the composition of the SAC membership.
Traditionally syndicalism has been a movement dominated by men in the
countryside. Timberworkers and stonecutters were initially very strongly
represented in the organisation, and this trend continued for a long while. Even
if there still is a lively Forest industry-federation in the SAC, there can be
no doubt that the trades that traditionally have been organised are on the way
out, to slowly be replaced by others.

-	The larger group now comes from the public sector dominated by women, and
usually live in the larger cities, says Hannele Peltonen.
That SAC - which became the first feminist union in Sweden - still has only
about 35 percent women members is said to be caused by the fact that the large
numbers of older male members.

-	Amongst the members below 65 years of age the distribution in terms of
breakdown by sex is almost even, says Torfi Magnusson, who has taken care of the
statistics for the membership registry.

The differences are also big between different LS. SAC in total has many young
members, possibly far more than a couple of decades ago, but some LS which seem
to live a fading life mainly consists of only older persons.
So, at present neither more or fewer choose SAC as their union organisation.
Ingemar Sjöö feels that this is quite natural, because the membership
development historically has been intimately tied to the business cycles of

-	SAC had great increases in membership in connection to deep economic crisis,
for example post-WWI. The happy 20's meant a massive loss of members, a trend
which was broken with the stock market crash in 1929. SAC lost almost 10 000
members in your years time, to regain the same number almost as quickly, he

-	I believe it will continue in this fashion. We must be available when people
almost in desperation search for union alternatives.
Aside from the more dramatic events that SAC freely or forced took part in, the
syndicalists that The Worker has spoken to want to hold forward a less
spectacular tendency that has grown noticeable the latest years. It is what is
referred to the "union reorganisation", which has revolved around a number of
union conferences and aims at rebuilding the union activity at the base in the
form of sections at workplaces and trade-organising in the form of syndicates
and federations on local respectively national level.

-	We have earlier focused pretty much on general political questions that
admittedly have bearings for the union struggle, but we have forgotten to invest
energy in the union organisation, says Hannele Peltonen.
Will the debated reorganisation escalate, or is it more of a hope?

-	Yes, but it isn't going as fast as one would like. I worked with the SAC
Women's Committee to bring in feminism in the organisation, and now in the
mirror you can see that it took 10 years.

Ingemar Sjöö believes himself to see that things already are starting to happen.
He tells about how he heard plans from members in the half-and-half sleeping
construction worker's federation to disband the federation, at the same time as
a group of younger construction workers who had been to a union reorganisational
conference showed great interest in a construction worker's federation without
even knowing about the formally existing one.

-	One could expect that this would take place during a general increase of
membership, but it is more the already existing members that are beginning to
get more alert, says Ingemar Sjöö.

He says that there is a consensus in the organisation about "turning the wheel"
in the direction of rebuilt syndicates and federations, and believes that the
taxi strike, which attracted much attention, has played a vital role in the

The taxi strike was successful, but at the same time led to some internal
controversies. That a union organises taxi drivers, who formally are a one
person-business, and struggles, with a combination of direct action and
anti-trust laws, for their demand to equal access to the taxi lanes at the
Arlanda airport is hardly a conventional way to do things for a Swedish union.
SAC has also stood for two much written about one-person this year, though with
lesser success. Last spring it was Karolina Bergh in Gävle who struggled for
better workplace conditions and higher wages, and now Rasmus Hästbacka in Umeå
who alone went out in strike against indivudual and secret wage-setting

-	Particularly the taxi strike was very odd. But I believe that we are quite
open for new ways, to use the strategies, methods and laws that are available to
us, says Hannele Peltonen.
Ingemar Sjöö concurs.

-	That one has to be flexible in the choice of methods and not lock one self up
in certain patterns of behaviour is a very far-reaching syndicalist tradition.

Torfi Magnusson, who has been involved in the work with the union reorganisation
conferences' points out that the amount of innovative union activity that he has
observed is limited to a small section of the membership and a younger
generation, but that it nevertheless is decisive for the survival of the SAC.

-	If a new ignition doesn't come now, SAC will quietly fade out and die, he

-	It isn't as simple as that one must become more workplace oriented, because
that might to mean jurisprudence and MBL [the Co-Determination Act, a law which
gives the worker opportunities to affect the situation at the workplace by for
example the right to form a union and sign collective agreements]. The
interesting thing is not to chase collective agreements, but to successfully
press for improvements. How they then are formally carried out and if it is LO
[Swedish main trade-union federation connected to the Social Democrats] that
signs them, it doesn't mean shit. 

Torfi Magnussan is of the opinion that SAC cannot hold on to the old
majority-thought, the goal to organise all workers.

-	We must be able to be a minority but still have the ability to put questions
on the agenda. If you have three syndicalists in a workplace it is more
interesting if they manage to carry out changes than if they recruit five

Many of the proposals to the SAC congress touches on to the "union
reorganisation" in different ways. Amongst other things there is a longer
proposal for a union programme (which is debated in this issue of Arbetaren).
Despite that many syndicalists seem to have a feeling that SAC is in a critical
stage, which both can lead to total stagnation or a new ignition, most don't
seem to view the congress as very decisive. Instead most are glad that the
number of motions this time isn't as large as at the congress in 1998.

-	Last congress flipped out. It wasn't able to make all decisions during the
allotted time, says Hannele Peltonen.

The aftermath was a number of referenda in important questions, which she means
has created a democratic problem by numbing the SAC-members. In important
referenda about the SAC economy and election of a new Working Committee, only a
few percent of the member participated.

Two years ago the members chose between a number of alternatives to manage SAC:s
million kronor deficit. Increased dues, closure of Arbetaren, firing of
personnel or borrowing money from the conflict funds were some alternatives, and
1200 member took part in the decision.

The result was higher dues for the ones with the highest wages, the internal
organ Syndikalisten cut down on printing costs and Arbetaren was left to mange
itself without additional money from it's owner, the members - even if a clear
majority voted against closure.

Now the economy of the SAC is OK, but the situation is worse for the companies:
the property in Stockholm, Federativs printing press and Arbetaren. As well the
printing press as the company taking care of the real estate has suffered losses
when customers when bankrupt.

During spring 2001, the Working Committee (AU) resigned, after a membership
referenda accepted a proposal to strip the AU delegates of voting rights in the
Central Committee. This changed the mission "from being a political commission
to being a service function" the delegates wrote, and chose to leave since this
was not what they had candidated for.

When a new AU was to be voted for only 200 members took part in the election. A
number of conflicts has since showed up around the Gothenburg-based AU that came
into action the 20th January this year - after SAC had been without AU for
almost a whole year.

-	We were forced to have seven-hour meetings to work off the mountain of matters
that had accumulated and it burnt us out from the start, says Ingemar Sjöö, one
of the delegates in the AU that now resigns when the congress votes a new one.

The critics mean that the present AU has acted authoritarian and tried to direct
the organisation politically rather than administrating the running work. But
Ingemar Sjöö means that hard measures were necessary after a period of

-	We broke into different authorities in the organisation and wanted
transparency and it things got heated. During the time that there had been no
AU, committees, companies and officials had found themselves quite comfortable.
A sort of praxis had been developed, unwritten routines that didn't comply with
the organisations constitution.

One of the more controversial actions of the AU was when the boards of SAC:s
companies were exchanged. Not the least the fact that Arbetaren received a board
compromised exlusively by men woke upset feelings.

-	I get the impression that we are intensively detested among many. But we don't
give a shit about it now, because we are resigning now anyway, says Ingemar

Six individuals are canditating for a new AU this congress. One lives in Gävle,
one in Uppsala and the rest in Stockholm. Two of them are women.
Three persons - Liv Marend, Arwid Lund and Lars Hammarberg - want to take over
the post as SAC:s secretary after Hannele Peltonen.

-	These four years has been a tough period. We have been very visible in the
media, but at the same time periodically lacked a function AU and been forced to
heavily cut down on personnel. Add to this the threats from nazi groups and that
our headquarters in Gävle was bombed. Together all this makes people to feel
bad, says Hannele Peltonen.

At the same time she means that SAC has learned much through the work of
creating a feminist trade union. 

-	We have gathered a common goal and cooperated between the office, the
industrial secretariat in Gävle, Arbetaren, the ombudsmen and the committees.
After our desire to break the male dominance it is a natural thing to continue
dealing with the union reorganisation.

Rasmus Fleisher, Translation Mikael Altemark

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