Without taking a closer look, the Swedish workers’ movement may, for an outside observer, look very strong and well organized. Many workers are union members, and the collective agreements and strong labor laws should ensure some basic rights, but the laws are seldom very effective and not used in real workplaces, and the union is very centralized and makes it hard to act out self-activity among wage workers. Make no mistakes, the swedish working class is very hard pressed with the highest unemployment seen in many years. But more and more workers is also taking actions outside of the traditional ”Swedish model” – using wild cat strikes and more hidden forms of direct action.

I have made an interview Ronan (or ”handsome irish anarchist” as he likes to call himself) who works with the blog Notes from the Swedish Workers’ movement. The blog looks into the different currents of the radical Swedish workers’ movement.

Kim
Hi, handsome irish anarchist, wanna tell me a bit about the project you work with?

Ronan
Right now I’m doing a lot of research and writing about the Swedish workers movement. I’m writing a blog with some shorter pieces and observations, and have just written a longer essay for an Irish journal, and am in the process of writing another long piece which I hope will be published in the English journal ‘Black Flag‘. The intention is to eventually produce a pamphlet called ‘Notes from the Swedish workers’ movement’ which will summarise the recent history of the movement, and present some of its most interesting ideas and practices.

Kim
How come you have this focus on Sweden? Does the movement differs from other similar countries that much?

Ronan
My main experience is with the English speaking movement, through active participation in Ireland, and a lot of discussions and reading about it elsewhere, so I can’t really speak for the movement in non-English speaking countries like France or Spain (I also have experience with the movement in Denmark). My focus on Sweden is because I think that the movement is generally on the same track, but is quite far ahead of what has so far developed in the English speaking movements. I want to take some of the lessons that have been learnt there, and bring them to the English speaking movements, which will hopefully provide some kind of ‘booster shot’ and help to speed up the development.
To be more precise, what I think is special about Sweden is the way in which it has developed a revolutionary theory and practice centred around the workplace as it is constituted today, not as it was twenty or thirty years ago. In the English speaking countries over the past few years there has been a very long internal discussion about issues such as organisation and the relation to the class struggle. I think these battles have now been won, and what the movements are struggling with is developing a real practice. In some cases people are very interested in working with unions, even when conditions make this impossible, , in some cases there is a strong critique of unions, but no practical alternative proposed. It’s these kind of discussions that I’m hoping to help develop with this research.

Kim
What do you see as the ”real practices”, theory and alternatives that can be ”borrowed” from the swedish movement

Ronan
As I said, I think the movement has developed a theory and practice rooted in the modern working place, and the modern class composition. This is seen in practices such as the Registry Method and the reorganisation of the SAC, the Faceless Resistance promoted by Kämpa Tillsammans!, and in the promotion of ‘social factory’ struggle by Planka.nu or Piratbyrån for example. I am also interested in Folkrörelselinjen’s particular approach to working within union structures to build militance, which still recognises the problems with unions. All these different practices really go hand in hand with a polyamorous approach to theory, which has cannibalised classical Marxism, ‘autonomist’ reinventions, anarchism, syndicalism, left communism, etc etc. This has meant that there is no single political thread which is primary, but a lot of different ideas, taken and re-contextualised to suit the needs of the present.

Kim
Haha, I like the language

Ronan
Poly-amorous cannibalisation?

Kim
We usually prefer to say ”pragmatic” instead of polyamorous. But that can change…
At the same time, there is very few open struggles like wildcats and occupations going on. I can imagine that LOs firm grip have forced us to look elsewhere and try different things… (not really a question, more like thinking…)

Ronan
Yes, unfortunately I haven’t really been able to find figures for strike days and things like that. My impression was that a lot of disputes were happening through SAC?

Kim
Yes, in number of strikes SAC is high i think, but not in ”strike days” since the strikes very often is small.

Ronan
Ok

Kim
But the lack of open struggles also have a lot to do with class composition, high unemployment and unsecure jobs and so forth.

Ronan
Yes, in that sense it would be consistent with much of the rest of the world

Kim – Can you tell me about the posts so far?

Ronan
On the blog I have both assembled some different stuff, and written some original things. Bear in mind that with this blog form, I don’t mean the posts to be the decisive work on something, but a prelude to more discussion and development.

So, I have assembled some of the different articles written in the ESF reader, which was very useful. I have published a translation a friend made of a Folkrörelselinjen text, I have published a short description of the Registry method (written by Altemark), an original piece about the Batko group, and just recently an interview with a former Folkmakt member about the history of that group.

Kim
And what are you planning now?

Ronan
I am hoping that the pieces about Batko and Folkmakt will inspire some discussion, which will provide more information. I am also planning a piece about whether SAC struggles are too conflictual. I would like to write something about the 1990 recession and the turn towards autonomism, something about school strikes. I would also like to write something about Kvinnopolitisk Forum, more about Piratbyrån, something about class composition, etc etc… That is, the class composition in Sweden
I will also publish the longer essays I told you about at some stage.

Kim
It seems to me that the swedish movement have been good at taking use of people real life experiences of workplace struggles, through discussions, interview, inquires and storytelling. How do you think about that?

Ronan
Yes, I definitely agree with you on this question. In common with a lot of other countries, the idea of the ‘militant inquiry’ from Italian operaismo (where radicals formally investigate the conditions of work in order to learn lessons about the class composition and methods of struggle which can then be circulated among other workers) was much discussed in Sweden, through Riff-Raff for example. Your group, Kämpa Tillsammans was also influenced by this discussion, but instead of making a formal inquiry into the lives of other workers, you preferred to discuss how you personally learned lessons from struggles in your own workplaces. I think this is quite an important shift, moving from looking at the working class from the outside, to looking at it from the inside as participants in the struggle.

One of the results of this is that these pieces, anecdotes rather than essays, are a lot more digestible, they are not just something for left wing academics (who anyway don’t matter that much!), but they are something for average pissed off workers who are looking for something to do in their workplaces. Stories can give us much more than academic work, they carry morals and norms as well as statistics and graphs. It is not an accident that reading children stories is one of the first acts of socialisation, it is about learning values, rather than simply facts.

It is worth noting that starting with everyday life as the basis of an opposition to the system is something that is common with the US feminist practice of ‘consciousness raising groups’, these groups connected women to the movement in a way that abstract sloganeering could not do, and it became the backbone of the feminist movement during that time.

This tendency has been aided by the internet, which has made it easier for people to publish their own stuff, while blogging has at the same time made it more acceptable to write in this informal style, of half finished thoughts, pieces in an ongoing discussion.
To sum up, I think this is again connected with what I discussed earlier, the importance of returning the focus to everyday life, rather than in the tired old clichés from 1917, 1936 etc. It empowers people, it makes the struggle something that occurs in their everyday life, and it makes revolutionary politics a lot more easy to grasp.

Kim
Anything else to add?

Ronan
Yes, it’d be really great to hear from people involved in the movement, to hear what they have been involved in, and what they think is important. The more people that participate, the better the work will be.
They can contact me at: swedishzine(at)gmail.com.

And that was all, readers should feel encouraged to comment in english so the poor souls who don’t know swedish may read as well.

As a tribute: a swedish demolition worker does the riverdance.

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