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The Origins and Myths of the Swedish Model of Workplace Democracy

  • ASTRID HEDIN (a1)
Abstract
Abstract

In 1976 Sweden adopted a law on workplace democracy, presented by the Social Democratic government as the ‘reform of the century’. What can the reform tell us about the history of the Swedish Model and how it was revised during the early 1970s under the prime minister, Olof Palme? This article compares four grand narratives of the development of welfare states, viewing dominant narratives of the Swedish Model as influential myths in their own right. The article argues that despite its global reputation as a hallmark of ‘democratic socialism’, the Swedish workplace democracy reform was a broad cross-class compromise, in the wake of a pan-European wave of similarly labelled reforms. Furthermore, the reform served to protect workplaces against Communist activism. The argument builds on the internal meeting protocols of the board and executive committee of the Swedish Social Democratic Party.

Les Origines et la mythologie du modèle suédois de la démocratie au travail

En 1976, la Suède adoptait une loi sur la démocratie au travail, présentée par le gouvernement social-démocrate comme la ‘réforme du siècle’. Que nous apprend cette réforme sur l’histoire du modèle suédois et sur la manière dont il a été revu au début des années soixante-dix, sous le premier ministre Olof Palme ? Cet article compare quatre narratifs majeurs du développement des États providence, et avance que les narratifs dominants du modèle suédois constituent en eux-mêmes des mythes influents. Selon l’auteur, la réforme de la démocratie au travail en Suède, en dépit de sa réputation mondiale d’archétype du ‘socialisme démocratique’, constituait en fait un vaste compromis entre différentes classes sociales, dans la lignée d’une vague paneuropéenne de réformes bénéficiant d’appellations similaires. Cette réforme a en outre servi à protéger les lieux de travail contre l’activisme communiste. L’auteur se fonde ici sur les procès-verbaux de réunions internes du comité de direction et du comité exécutif du parti social-démocratique suédois.

Ursprung und Mythen des Schwedischen Modells der Demokratie am Arbeitsplatz

Schweden verabschiedete 1976 das Mitbestimmungsgesetz, das von der sozialdemokratischen Regierung als ‘Jahrhundertreform’ gefeiert wurde. Welche Erkenntnisse über die Geschichte des Schwedischen Modells und dessen Überarbeitung in den frühen siebziger Jahren unter der Regierung von Ministerpräsident Olof Palme kann uns diese Reform vermitteln? In diesem Beitrag werden vier bedeutende Narrative über die Entwicklung von Wohlfahrtsstaaten verglichen, wobei die dominanten Darstellungen über das Schwedische Modell für sich genommen als einflussreiche Mythen betrachtet werden. Dabei wird die Hypothese aufgestellt, dass es sich bei der schwedischen Reform zur Demokratie am Arbeitsplatz – die weltweit als Maßstab des ‘demokratischen Sozialismus’ besonderes Ansehen genießt – letztlich um einen breiten klassenübergreifenden Kompromiss handelte. Sie folgte auf eine paneuropäische Welle von Reformen, die mit einem ähnlichen Etikett versehen wurden. Zudem fungierte die Reform als Schutz vor kommunistischem Aktivismus am Arbeitsplatz. Als Quellenmaterialien legt der Beitrag die internen Sitzungsprotokolle des Vorstands und des Exekutivausschusses der schwedischen Sozialdemokratischen Partei zugrunde.

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1 Arbetarrörelsens Arkiv [Swedish Labour Movement Archives], Stockholm, Sveriges Socialdemokratiska Arbetareparti [Sweden's Social Democratic Party], Partistyrelsens protokoll [Protocols of the party board and executive committee], ARBARK 1889/A/2/A/1971, 4 June 1971. (All quotes are translated from Swedish by the author.)

2 Kammarens protokoll [Protocols of the Swedish parliament] 1975/76: 146, 2 June 1976, Arbetsrättsreform m.m. [Labour law reform etc.].

3 Cf. Middel Matthias and Roura Lluis, ‘The Various Forms of Transcending the Horizon of National History Writing’, in Middell and Roura, eds, Transnational Challenges to National History Writing (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 135.

4 Meyer John W., ‘World Society and the Nation State’, American Journal of Sociology, 103, 1 (1997), 144–81; Meyer John W. and Rowan Brian, ‘Institutionalized Organizations: Formal Structure as Myth and Ceremony’, American Journal of Sociology, 83 (1977), 340–63.

5 On the concepts of myth and ceremony employed in this article, see Meyer and Rowan, ‘Institutionalized Organizations’.

6 On the concepts of entangled histories and histoire croisée, see Werner Michael and Zimmermann Bénédicte, ‘Vergleich, Transfer, Verflechtung: Der Ansatz der Histoire croisée und die Herausforderung des Transnationalen’, Geschichte und Gesellschaft, 28, 4 (2002), 607–36; Espagne Michel, ‘Sur les limites du comparatisme en histoire culturelle’, Genèses, 17, 1 (1994), 112–21. On the concept of an analytical cut, see Allison Graham, ‘Conceptual Models and the Cuban Missile Crisis’, The American Political Science Review, 63, 3 (1969), 680718, 691 n. 1.

7 Korpi Walter, ‘Conflict, Power and Relative Deprivation’, The American Political Science Review, 68, 4 (1974), 1569–78; ‘Power Resources Approach vs. Action and Conflict: On Causal and Intentional Explanations in the Study of Power’, Sociological Theory, 3, 2 (1985), 31–45; and ‘Power Resources and Employer-Centered Approaches in Explanations of Welfare States and Varieties of Capitalism: Protagonists, Consenters, and Antagonists’, World Politics, 58, 2 (2006), 167–206; Esping-Andersen Gösta, Politics Against Markets: The Social Democratic Road to Power (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985).

8 Swenson Peter, ‘Bringing Capital Back In, or Social Democracy Reconsidered: Employer Power, Cross-Class Alliances, and Centralization of Industrial Relations in Denmark and Sweden’, World Politics, 43, 1 (July 1991), 513–44; Capitalists Against Markets: The Making of Labour Markets and Welfare States in the United States and Sweden (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002); and ‘Varieties of Capitalist Interests: Power, Institutions, and the Regulatory Welfare State in the United States and Sweden’, Studies in American Political Development, 18, 1 (2004), 1–29; Mares Isabela, The Politics of Social Risk: Business and Welfare State Development (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003); Paster Thomas, ‘Business and Welfare State Development: Why Did Employers Accept Social Reforms’, World Politics, 65, 3 (2013), 416–51.

9 Hobsbawm Eric, The Age of Extremes: A History of the World, 1914–1991 (New York: Pantheon Books, 1994); How to Change the World: Tales of Marx and Marxism (London: Abacus, 2012); and ‘Goodbye To All That’, Marxism Today (October 1990), 18–23.

10 For contrasting perspectives, see n. 15 and ‘The Nordic Countries: The Next Supermodel’, The Economist, 2 Feb. 2013.

11 Åsard Erik, ‘Employee Participation in Sweden 1971–1979: The Issue of Economic Democracy’, Economic and Industrial Democracy, 1 (1980), 371–93, 385ff.

12 See Berman Sheri, The Primacy of Politics: Social Democracy and the Making of Europe's Twentieth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008) and ‘Path Dependency and Political Action: Re-Examining Responses to Depression’, Comparative Politics, 30, 4 (1998), 379–400; Hjalmar Branting, ‘Ett modernt socialdemokratiskt program’ (1902) and ‘Demokrati eller diktatur’ (1919), in Socialism och demokrati (Stockholm: Prisma, 1970), 57–61 and 122–9. Hansson Sigfrid, Den svenska fackföreningsrörelsen, 7th edn (Stockholm: Tiden, 1942): this book, which was core reading for internal LO union education during the entire interwar period, was written by the brother of the prime minister, Per Albin Hansson. It emphasised reformism and parliamentarianism and claimed that there was nothing democratic at all about unions in the Soviet Union (p. 404).

13 In December 2011, on the third attempt, the SAP gained the rights to the term den Nordiska modellen (The Nordic Model) as registered trademark with the Swedish Patent and Registration Office (PRV). Appeals made by the Nordic Council were turned down. In 2012, the centre-right Alliance government then published the booklet The Nordic Way: Equality, Individuality and Social Trust (Stockholm: The Swedish Institute, 2012), with its own reinterpretation of and claims to represent a historic Nordic Model.

14 Esping-Andersen, Politics against Markets; Rothstein Bo, Just Institutions Matter: The Moral and Political Logic of the Universal Welfare State (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

15 Johnny Munckhammar, ‘The Swedish Model: It's the free market reforms, stupid’, The Wall Street Journal (26 January 2011); Schiller Bernt, ‘Det förödande 70-talet’: SAF och medbestämmandet 1965–1982 (Stockholm: Allmänna, 1988).

16 The 1970s also saw fundamental changes to the Swedish labour market gender model, including the introduction in 1972 of individual income taxation for married spouses, the 1974 Act on the Right to Parental Leave, the 1976 decision to expand public child care, a 1979 act giving parents of pre-school children the right to work 6-hour days, and the 1979 Act Against Gender Discrimination in Working Life.

17 Gilljam Mikael, Svenska folket och löntagarfonderna: En studie i politisk åsiktsbildning. (Lund: Studentlitteratur, 1988); Åsard, ‘Employee Participation in Sweden’.

18 Meidner Rudolf and Hedborg Anna, Löntagarfonder (Stockholm: Tiden and LO, 1975); English trans.: Meidner R., Employee Investment Funds: An Approach to Collective Capital Formation (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1978).

19 Levinson Klas and Wallenberg Jan, ‘Partssamverkan i offentlig verksamhet: En undersökning av svensk ledningsmodell i förändring’, Arbetsliv i omvandling, 7 (2006) 133. Cf. Henrik Berggren and Lars Trägårdh, ‘Social Trust and Radical Individualism: The Paradox at the Heart of Nordic Capitalism’, in The Nordic Way, 12–29, 14.

20 Annika Berg, ‘Sweden’, in European Industrial Relations Observatory Online, ‘Thematic Feature: Works Councils and Other Workplace Employee Representation and Participation Structures’, available at www.eurofound.europa.eu/eiro/2003/09/tfeature/se0309103t.htm (last visited 27 June 2013).

21 Schiller Bernt, ‘The Swedish Model Reconstituted’, in Hancock M. D., Logue J. and Schiller B., eds, Managing Modern Capitalism: Industrial Renewal and Workplace Democracy in the United States and Sweden (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1991), 145–71, 157.

22 Rothstein Bo, ‘Demokratisk socialism: Ett historiskt misslyckande och dess förklaring’, Häften för Kritiska Studier, 197, 5 (2008), 2839, 31.

23 Levinson Klas, ‘Codetermination in Sweden: Myth and Reality’, Economic and Industrial Democracy, 21 (2000), 457–73.

24 Fulcher James, Labour Movements, Employers and the State: Conflict and Co-operation in Sweden and Britain (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), 267–8.

25 Hyman Richard, The Political Economy of Industrial Relations: Theory and Practice in a Cold Climate (New York: Macmillan Press, 1989), 213–4.

26 Klein Naomi, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (London: Penguin, 2008), 569.

27 Korpi, ‘Conflict, Power’; ‘Power Resources Approach’ and ‘Power Resources and Employer-Centered Approaches’; Esping-Andersen, Politics against Markets.

28 Hadenius Axel, Medbestämmandereformen (Stockholm: Almqvist and Wiksell, 1983); Bengtsson Bo, ‘MBL och fonderna: Två spel om ekonomisk demokrati’, Statsvetenskaplig tidskrift, 73, 1 (1991), 1339.

29 ARBARK 1889/A/2/A/1969, 17 June 1969.

30 ARBARK 1889/A/2/A/1970, 28 Apr. 1970.

32 ARBARK 1889/A/2/A/1971, 4 June 1971.

33 Kammarens protokoll [Protocols of the Swedish parliament] 1975/76: 146, 156–7.

34 Rhenman Erik, Företagsdemokrati och företagsorganisation: Om organisationsteoris tillämpbarhet i debatten om arbetslivets demokratisering (Stockholm: SAF and Norstedts, 1964).

36 March James G. and Simon Herbert A., Organizations (New York: Wiley, 1958), ch. 4; Thorsrud Einar and Emery Fred, Mot en ny bedriftsorganisasjon [Towards a New Business Organisation] (Oslo: Johan Grundt Tanum, 1969); Stymne Bengt, ‘Eric Rhenman: Nydanare inom svensk företagsekonomi’, in Engwall Lars, ed., Föregångare inom företagsekonomin (Stockholm: SNS, 1995), 369–94.

37 Svenska Arbetsgivareföreningen [SAF, Swedish employers’ confederation], Samarbetet i framtidens företag [Co-operation in the companies of the future] (Stockholm: SAF, 1965).

38 Ibid. 166–222, 206, 210.

39 Thorsrud Einar and Emery Fred, Medinflytande och engagemang i arbetet: Norska försök med självstyrande grupper [Empowerment and involvement at work: Norwegian experiments with self-governed groups] (Stockholm: Utvecklingsrådet för samarbetsfrågor, 1969).

40 Folkpartiet, Företagsdemokrati i utveckling (Stockholm: Folk och samhälle, 1967).

41 Andra kammaren (AK) [Second house of the Swedish parliament] Motion 1967: 840 ‘Om företagsdemokrati’ [‘About workplace democracy’].

42 Andra kammaren (AK) Motion 1969: 312 ‘Om fördjupande av företagsdemokratin’ [‘About the expansion of workplace democracy’].

43 Mares, The Politics of Social Risk.

44 Swenson, Capitalists against markets.

45 Swenson, ‘Varieties of Capitalist Interests’.

46 Denzau Arthur T. and North Douglass C., ‘Shared Mental Models: Ideologies and Institutions’, Kyklos, 47, 1 (1994), 331.

47 Hobsbawm, The Age of Extremes, How to Change the World and ‘Goodbye To All That’.

48 Hobsbawm ‘Goodbye To All That’, 18–23.

49 ARBARK 1889/A/2/A/1970, 12 Jan. 1970.

50 LO (Gösta Rehn and Rudolf Meidner) Fackföreningsrörelsen och den fulla sysselsättningen (Stockholm: LO, 1951).

51 ARBARK 1889/A/2/A/1970, 12 Jan. 1970.

54 Statens Offentliga Utredningar [Swedish Government Official Reports series], Rikets säkerhet och den personliga integriteten: De svenska säkerhetstjänsternas författningsskyddade verksamhet sedan år 1945 [National Security and Personal Privacy: The Swedish Security Services’ Activities To Protect The Constitution since 1945], SOU 2002:87 (Stockholm: Fritzes, 2002), 182–8, 186.

55 Sara Lidman became well known in Communist East Germany (GDR) with her critique of the US intervention in Vietnam, Conversations in Hanoi, tr. into German in 1967 by the main GDR publisher of foreign literature, Verlag Volk und Welt. In the following years, four of her novels were published in the GDR, and in 1969 she reached the the top of the East German bestseller chart. Her books, as well as her visit to the GDR in 1972, received positive reviews from the Communist Party daily Neues Deutschland. In West Germany, Lidman's novels were not published after the 1950s, but in 1971 she contributed to an edited volume on The Swedish Model of Exploitation, with a preface by Günther Wallraff. See Pfaff Victor and Wikhäll Mona, eds, Das schwedische Modell der Ausbeutung: Texte zum Arbeiterleben und zur Klassenstruktur im Wohlfahrtsstaat (Berlin (West): Kiepenheuer and Witsch, 1971).

56 Sara Lidman, ‘Arbetskraften och de mänskliga rättigheterna: Anförande vid solidaritetsmöte för de strejkande gruvarbetarna, Lund 17 januari 1970’, Zenit, 16 ½ (February 1970), 1–6.

57 ARBARK 1889/A/2/A/1970, 12 January 1970.

59 On the Palme governments’ progressive foreign policy as a strategy to accommodate the left-wing trend among Swedish youth, see Makko Aryo, ‘Sweden, Europe, and the Cold War: A Reappraisal’, Journal of Cold War Studies, 14, 2 (2012), 6897, 68–70.

60 Berggren Henrik, Underbara dagar framför oss: En biografi över Olof Palme (Stockholm: Norstedt, 2010), 129–36, 427, 541. For the contrasting view that Palme had little personal interest in workplace democracy, see Östberg Kjell, I takt med tiden: Olof Palme 1927–1969 (Stockholm: Leopard, 2008), 395–6.

61 On temporal sorting or ‘garbage-can decision-making’, see Cohen Michael D., March James G. and Olsen Johan P., ‘A Garbage Can Model of Organizational Choice’, Administrative Science Quarterly, 17, 1 (1972), 125.

62 ARBARK 1889/A/2/A/1970, 26 Nov. 1970.

64 Statens Offentliga Utredningar, Rikets säkerhet, 182–8.

65 ARBARK 1889/A/2/A/1973, 14 Feb. 1973.

66 The two groups KFML-r and KFML/SKP shifted their politics somewhat over time, and both contemporaries and later historians have had trouble keeping the groups apart – as the protocols of the SAP board show. KFML-r was a 1970 splinter group of the splinter group KFML (later renamed Sveriges Kommunistiska Parti, SKP), that had broken out of the parliamentary party Sveriges Kommunistiska Parti, SKP, when in 1967 SKP in a symbolical move away from the Soviet Union renamed itself Vänsterpartiet kommunisterna (Vpk). By 1973, the young little activist group KFML-r had 17 full time functionaries in the Gothenburg area, and had bought a cinema to run their activities from. Originally, the KFML-r, which dominated the Gothenburg area, promoted wildcat strikes, and wished to undermine the established unions, while the aim of KFML (later SKP), which had its centre in Stockholm, was instead to take over the unions from within. KFML organised study circles based on the booklet ‘Gör facket till en kamporganisation!’ (‘Make the unions into combat organisations!’), which they published in their own publishing house, Oktober. Both KFML and KFML-r were active in the campaigns against Paragraph 32. Over time, the splinter groups were suspected by the Swedish security police to have alternating sources of foreign support; economic support from China, and economic and educational support from the Soviet Union, via East Germany. See Statens Offentliga Utredningar [Swedish Government Official Reports series] Övervakningen av SKP-komplexet, SOU 2002:93 and Rikets säkerhet, SOU 2002:87 (Stockholm: Fritze, 2002).

67 ARBARK 1889/A/2/A/1973, 16 Feb. 1973.

68 ARBARK 1889/A/2/A/1973, 14 Feb. 1973.

69 On so-called Zersetzungsmassnahmen, or ‘decomposing measures’ towards individuals, see Behnke Klaus and Fuchs Jürgen, Zersetzung der Seele: Psychologie und Psychiatrie im Dienste der Stasi, 3rd edn (Hamburg: Europäische Verlagsanstalt, 2010).

70 ARBARK 1889/A/2/A/1973, 16 February 1973.

71 Kammarens protokoll [Protocols of the Swedish parliament] 1975/76: 146, 2 June 1976, Arbetsrättsreform m.m. [Labour law reform etc.].

72 ‘Lag (1976:580) om medbestämmande i arbetslivet’ [‘Law on Codetermination in the workplace’], Svensk författningssamling [Swedish Book of Statutes] (Stockholm: Fritzes).

73 Statens Offentliga Utredningar [Swedish Government Official Reports series] Politisk propaganda på arbetsplatser [Political Propaganda in Workplaces], SOU 1975:27 (Stockholm: Fritze, 1975).

74 In 2005, EU directive 2002/16 forced Sweden to revise MBL to extend the right of information to all unions represented at a workplace (i.e. not only to unions with collective agreements with the employer). See Jenny Lundberg, The Impact of the Information and Consultation Directive on Industrial Relations in Sweden, EIRO (European Industrial Relations Observatory), document ID SE0710029Q.

75 TCO, Tjänstemännen och företagsnämnderna (Stockholm: TCO, 1966). LO, Solidariskt medbestämmande: Rapport till LO-kongressen (Stockholm: LO, 1976).

76 Torsten Nilsson, Sten Andersson and Sven Aspling, see ARBARK 1889/A/2/A/1970, 24 Nov. 1970.

77 Cohen et al., ‘A Garbage Can Model’.

78 The traditional beneficiaries of Swedish state subsidies for popular adult education (folkbildning) have been the trade union movement, the temperance movement, the women's movement, the farmers’ movement, and the Free Church Movement, through their respective study associations and the adult colleges that they have owned or been associated with.

79 LO, Fackliga studier: Sammanfattning av studieutredningens (STULO) rapport. (Stockholm: LO, 1976).

80 Ibid. 35–7.

81 Centrala Fackliga Studiekommittén (CFS), Facklig grundkurs: Grundmaterial. (Stockholm: ABF, LO och Brevskolan, 1978), 54–9.

82 CFS, Facket i samhället: Tillvalsmaterial till facklig grundkurs. (Stockholm: ABF, LO och Brevskolan, 1978).

83 Ibid. 124.

84 Statsliggaren [The State Ledger] (Stockholm: Fritze, 1975/76–1985/86).

85 On education as LO's main tool of identity policy during the interwar period, see Jenny Jansson, ‘Manufacturing Consensus: The Making of the Swedish Reformist Working Class’, PhD dissertation, University of Uppsala, 2012.

86 Meyer John W., ‘Globalization: Sources and Effects on National States and Societies’, International Sociology, 2000, 15, 233–48, 234.

87 Hwang Hokyu, ‘Planning Development: Globalization and the Shifting Locus of Planning’ in Drori G. S., Meyer J. W., Ramirez F., and Schofer E., eds, Science in the Modern World Polity: Institutionalization and Globalization (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2002), 6990; Meyer John W., Boli-Bennett John and Chase-Dunn Christopher, ‘Convergence and Divergence in Development’, Annual Review of Sociology, 1 (1975), 223–46.

88 Meyer et al., ‘World Society and the Nation State’, 164.

89 One exception is the journalist Nycander Svante, Makten över arbetsmarknaden: Ett perspektiv på Sveriges 1900-tal (Stockholm: SNS, 2002).

90 Landsorganisationen (LO), Handlingar rörande företagsnämndsverksamhet [Documents relating to work council activities], ARBARK 2964/F/20.

91 Cf. LO, Industrial Democracy: Programme Adopted by the 1971 Congress of the Swedish Trade Union Confederation (Stockholm: LO, 1972).

92 Therborn Göran, ed., En ny vänster [A New Left] (Stockholm: Rabén and Sjögren, 1966), 169–96, 92. Cf. Backlund Leif, ‘Medbestämmande och Europas självständighet’, Tiden (Stockholm: SAP, 1969), 61, 587–91.

93 See, e.g. Södersten Bo, Den svenska sköldpaddan: Politiskt, ekonomiskt, personligt ur ett socialdemokratiskt perspektiv (Stockholm: Rabén and Sjögren, 1975); Abrahamson Bengt, Exemplet Jugoslavien och den svenska debatten om löntagarfondstyre (Stockholm: AWE/Geber, 1976); Denitch Bogdan, ‘Det jugoslaviska exemplet: Självstyre och arbetarråd’, Tiden (Stockholm: Sveriges Socialdemokratiska Arbetarparti, 1974), 66, 133–45.

94 See Landsorganisationen (LO), Handlingar rörande företagsnämndsverksamhet; also Bergström Villy, ‘Löntagarfonder för demokrati’, Tiden (Stockholm: SAP, 1975), 67, 363–73.

95 Cf. Habermas Jürgen, ‘Drei normative Modelle der Demokratie’, in Die Einbeziehung des Anderen (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1996), 277–92.

96 Finnemore Martha, ‘Review: Norms, culture, and world politics: Insights from sociology's institutionalism’, International Organization, 50, 2 (1996), 325–47.

The research for this article was funded by a grant from the Swedish Research Council, Vetenskapsrådet and drafted during a stay as Anna Lindh fellow of the Europe Center at Stanford University. I thank the Stanford Comparative Sociology Workshop, Professors Bo Bengtsson and Sverker Gustavsson at Uppsala University, as well as conference participants of the Axe 2 of the French Lab-ex research programme ‘Écrire une histoire nouvelle de l’Europe’ (EHNE) for helpful suggestions on the project. I also wish to thank the three anonymous reviewers for comments and criticism.

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