Unions divided over Euro Pact

The question of whether Sweden should have approved the Euro Pact has sparked divisions within the Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO). In a press release on 3 February 2012, the leadership of the 6F amalgamation of unions openly opposed a statement in support of the pact made by the LO President Wanja Lundby-Wedin. LO’s committee will have to work hard to heal the split before the election of a new LO president, which takes place in May and is being contested by four candidates.

Background

Sweden was one of the four European Union member states that threatened to overturn an EU 27 agreement to help strengthen the euro. However, having taken a stand against the pact, the Swedish government and Swedish Social Democrats (Socialdemokraterna) finally accepted it on 27 January 2012. After clearance from the Swedish parliament’s EU committee to approve protocol changes agreed by the eurozone countries, Sweden decided not to stand in the way of the pact.

Union reaction to Pact

After the approval, Wanja Lundby-Wedin, President of the Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO), released a statement on 31 January 2012 saying that it was reasonable that Sweden should participate in the pact to show solidarity. However, this statement led to open criticism from within LO. Rather than supporting her, the leaders of 6F, an amalgamation of six major Swedish trade unions, publicly backed the European Trade Union Confederation’s (ETUC) stance that a Euro Pact will disadvantage employees within Europe. It is the first time LO unions have openly opposed the LO president.

Lundby-Wedin has said the Swedish presence within the pact will influence the euro zone and help create further stability within it. However, 6F’s leadership has disputed this, saying they find it remarkable that an LO president has gone against the ETUC’s core principles. The ETUC has criticised proposals for tougher economic governance within the Euro Pact. Lundby-Wedin, a former president of the ETUC, expressed surprise after hearing of 6F’s opposition and said the board of LO had not taken a formal decision on the pact question.

‘I have obviously made the wrong assessment,’ she commented.

Change of president in May

The LO committee now has a difficult task in front of it. A new president will replace Lundby-Wedin when she ends her term in May, and her successor’s role will be a demanding one. The Swedish economy has been greatly affected by the euro crisis and the 2012 unemployment forecast is disheartening and may worsen.

The four candidates for LO president are Tobias Baudin, from the Swedish Municipal Workers’ Union (Kommunal), Karl-Petter Thorwaldsson, with positions in both IF Metall and the Workers’ Educational Association (ABF), Helén Pettersson, a Social Democrat Member of Parliament, and Jan-Henrik Sandberg, from the Swedish Paper Workers’ Union (Pappers).

Baudin seems to be favourite to win. If elected, he has said that he will push for better member conditions and work to increase cooperation with other trade union associations. Karl-Petter Thorwaldsson has said that LO needs to be better coordinated and one solutions he suggests is to encourage unions to work more locally. Helén Pettersson is regarded as an outsider but has said that her aim, if elected, is to work politically to achieve LO objectives. Jan-Henrik Sandberg, also considered an outsider, believes LO should take more initiative in the debate and put forward more proposals about how society should develop.

There are strong links between LO and the Social Democratic Party and the election of a new LO president will clearly have an impact on that relationship. Baudin believes LO should not be afraid to differ from the Social Democrats in order to create a dynamic discussion. Thorwaldsson and Sandberg agree that the party and confederation have been too close in the past and that more debate would be welcome. Petterson, in contrast, wants the relationship to be strengthened.

Commentary

The LO committee usually handles election procedure behind closed doors, but this year it has been openly debated. Applications must be submitted before the Trade Union Congress in May 2012.

The LO members need to avoid internal debates, unite and make a fresh start to attract more members. The confederation also needs to become more dynamic to win over public opinion and escape the backwater to which it has been relegated.

Mats Kullander and Ingrid Broman, Oxford Research

Useful? Interesting? Tell us what you think. Hide comments

Eurofound welcomes feedback and updates on this regulation

Add new comment