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   Vol.66/No.35           September 23, 2002  
Swedish rulers target
rights, social wage
STOCKHOLM, Sweden--In the run-up to the September 15 elections for parliament and county and city seats, the parties of big business, and many in the workers movement, have targeted the rights of immigrants and promised to go after access to sick-leave payments if they are elected. The proposals to attack workers’ rights and the social wage have been touted as progressive measures to "help" working people pull themselves up from joblessness. They come at a time of growing economic insecurity--the stock market has plummeted 64 percent in the last two years--and as Washington prepares for war against Iraq.

"So far, the politics of immigration are the hottest question yet in the election campaigns," reported the conservative daily Svenska Dagbladet.

The anti-immigrant debate was kicked off by a speech from Lars Leijonborg, leader of the liberal People’s Party. Leijonborg called for language tests for immigrants to qualify for Swedish citizenship, deportation of immigrant workers who are unemployed more than three months, and instituting a five-year period that furthers the second-class status of noncitizens.

His proposal was trumpeted as a measure that benefits foreign-born workers--opening the borders for "workforce immigration"-- in contrast to Prime Minister Göran Persson, from the Social Democratic Workers’ Party, who said in August that there is no need for government-organized "workforce immigration" for the next 10 years.

The debate among ruling-class hirelings revolves around how to restrict the rights of noncitizens to reinforce a layer of superexploited workers, and weaken solidarity between native- and foreign-born working people.

The rulers in Sweden face a similar challenge to that of their imperialist rivals in Europe. While the U.S. economic boom in the 1990s was built in part on an influx of millions of workers from Latin America and other regions of the semicolonial world, the Swedish rulers confront an aging workforce and a rising number of retirees.

Svenska Dagbladet ran a series on immigration, filled mostly with right-wing columnists such as Count Ian Wachtmeister. He scapegoated immigrants for crime and unemployment and criticized what he called the "political class" that "has not stood up for its own people." Count Wachtmeister, a multimillionaire and a member of one of Sweden’s oldest noble families, led a right-wing Bonapartist party called New Democracy, which won 6.7 percent of the national vote in the 1991 parliamentary elections. New Democracy was a pillar of support for the Conservative Party–led government of Carl Bildt at that time.

The incipient fascist Sweden Democrats and National Democrats both center on scapegoating immigrants for capitalism’s failure to guarantee health care, education, and care of the elderly for "the Swedes." They have held public meetings, like one in Stockholm on August 24, under the banner of "blue-and-yellow questions" (the colors of the Swedish flag). Police sealed off a downtown square to protect the ultrarightists and attacked counterdemonstrators outside the meeting, arresting 60 people.

Under the guise of fighting international terrorism, Stockholm has taken steps to restrict workers rights. Foreign Minister Anna Lindh led the charge in the European Union (EU) to label the Kurdistan Workers Party--one of the groups fighting for self-determination of the Kurdish people--as a "terrorist organization." In late 2001, the Swedish government deported without trial two Egyptian citizens on secret charges of "terrorism," acknowledging that they may face execution in Egypt.

Stockholm has gone along with Washington’s detention of Mehdi-Muhammed Ghezali, a 23-year old Swedish citizen who was captured by U.S. troops in Afghanistan and is now being held in the U.S. Navy base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Under U.S. authority, Ghezali could face the death penalty.

In their election platform, the Social Democrats promise that with another four years in power they will put an additional 4,000 cops on the streets.

Stockholm has some 900 troops stationed abroad, 780 of whom are taking part in the NATO-led force occupying Kosova since the U.S.-led war against Yugoslavia in 1999. Some 35 elite troops are also taking part in the imperialist occupation of Afghanistan. In the past, Stockholm had only deployed field hospitals to promote their imperialist interests.  
Social wage targeted
During their eight years at the head of the national government, the Social Democrats have built on the attacks on the social wage carried out by the Conservative Party–led government of Carl Bildt in 1991–94. Between 1992 and 2000, the number of health-care sites available to people in hospitals was cut from 58,000 to 32,000. The average time of hospital care dropped from 8.5 to 6.2 days.

According to Dagens Arbete, the paper of the industrial unions, the number of workers on sick leave and working while ill has increased since the "first day sick leave without payment" was reintroduced by the Bildt government in 1993. The measure, which denies compensation for the first day of a worker’s sick leave, was designed to press more people to work sick rather than lose a day’s wage.

Hated by working people, it had been abolished by a Social Democratic administration in 1987, under pressure from the labor movement. Its reintroduction, the union paper states, "was primarily about the wish of the employers to discipline the workforce." According to the August 9 Social Democratic daily Aftonbladet, the overall average of sick leave for working-class women has increased from 40 days a year in 1990 to almost 50 in 2001.

In a report presented by Social Insurance Minister Ingela Thalén, the Social Democrats propose to cut the total number of missed days from work by half by 2008. Among the proposals by Thalén is that after 60 days, workers on sick leave would have to see a different doctor who would control their leave permit. The minister told Göteborgs-Posten that "we must try in very many ways to break up sick leaves that last as long as 60 days."

The Left Party, a formerly pro-Moscow Stalinist party, has stated that it wishes to join a coalition government with the Social Democrats, although Prime Minister Göran Persson says such a coalition is out of the question. In a statement on its health-care policy, the Left Party repeats the promise of Social Democracy that "Our goal is to cut by half the number of the unhealthy on the labor market by 2008." Both parties call for abolishing the denial of pay for the first day of sick leave "in the long run."  
Role of Swedish imperialism
Among the questions largely absent in all of the election campaigns except the Communist League--which runs candidates for parliament as well as in the county and city elections in Stockholm and Gothenburg--is the role of Swedish imperialism in the world. Stockholm’s foreign policy has been largely overshadowed by the anti-immigrant rhetoric dominating the pre-election public debate.

Sweden is a small imperialist country that developed a closer relationship with Washington in the 1990s to get more elbow room in the interimperialist competition in Europe. For example, Swedish steel companies export $250 million worth of steel to the United States each year. When Washington imposed its aggressive steel tariffs in March Swedish steel exports were granted exemptions for all but $40 million of their exported steel.

Stockholm aggressively promotes its interests inside the European Union. Persson joined with French president Jacques Chirac to block a proposal in the EU from Britain and Spain that suggested cutting aid to so-called "transit countries" for "illegal" immigration. Persson dropped his diplomatic niceties, calling the proposal "stupid." Such a measure would have reduced potential trade and investment by Stockholm in the Baltic states and by Paris in North Africa.

The Swedish rulers are keeping themselves at arm’s length from open support for U.S. war moves against Iraq. In a radio interview, Persson was asked, "What position will the Swedish government take if Washington goes to war with Iraq?" "We will see," he replied. Implying that Stockholm will back a war, however, Foreign Minister Anna Lind has stated that an assault on Iraq should first have the approval of the United Nations.  
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