labour day in sweden

Labour Day is celebrated on May 1st and is one of the most important holidays in Sweden. In a country, which welfare state was built by a Social Democratic Party that was in the government for more than 40 years, this day cannot pass without any marches or parades. And as Swedish PM, Stefan Löfven, came to Malmö, I couldn’t miss the opportunity. Below you can find the photo relation and short history of Swedish Social Democracy.

even Charles X was braw, surrounded by Swedish flags

even Charles X was braw, surrounded by Swedish flags

SHORT STORY OF THE SWEDISH SOCIALISM

Of course, I am unable to mention all successes and failures of Swedish Social Democratic Party. The beginnings were humble. Socialdemokratiska arbetarepartiet – Socialdemocratic Workers Party – has its first congress in Stockholm in 1889. They emerged outside of parliament and they can be called the first party in a modern sense. From the very beginning they collaborated closely with the trade unions. In 1898 both sides created Landsorganisationen i Sverige (LO), which exists until today and is the central organ for all trade unions and influences the political decision concerning the blue collar workers.

Hjalmar Branting, source: wikipedia.se

Hjalmar Branting, source: wikipedia.se

August Palm, a tailor, is considered to be the first Swedish Social Democrat. Palm was travelling around Sweden in 1880s and encouraged the workers to create trade unions. Palm was replaced by a man with a totally different background and who yet became the father of Swedish Social Democracy. Hjalmar Branting was a son of a professor and received an academic education himself. Nevertheless, he was not lacking leadership skills and passion for Social Democratic ideas. He was studying together with Karl Straaff, who later became the leader of liberal party, with which Social Democrats created a common front at the beginning of their presence in the parliament. The binding issue for those two parties was a fight for introducing the general suffrage in Sweden. When it happened in 1918, Social Democrats and liberals discovered that they have nothing more in common. Social Democrats took over power in 1932 ad governed Sweden until 1976 with a three months break in the summer of 1936, when the Agrarian Party was in the government. Later Social Democrats will combine a coalition with them, something known as “the red-green coalition” and which lasted from 1936 to 1939 and then again from 1951 to 1957. During the World War II Social Democrats could rule only with Agrarian Party, but in order to create the strongest stability possible, they created a government with all parties, who were present in the parliament during the war apart from Communist Party. During the election in autumn 1940 the Social Democratic Party had its greatest victory in history, gaining 53,8% of the votes. The coalition government dissolved in July 1945 and was replaced by purely Social Democratic government.

 

Why Social Democrats won in 1932 in the first place? They based their programme on an idea, that notjust everyone should have a job, but also that this job should have a meaning. Since this winning election until the end of WWII Per Albin Hansson was Swedish PM and as a party leader he replaced Branting in 1925.

Per Albin Hansson, source: teknikensvarld.se

Per Albin Hansson, source: teknikensvarld.se

If Per Albin Hansson is associated with anything else than a vegan version of “Janssons temptation” that would be an idea of folkhemmet. It isn’t an element only of a Swedish history, but still represent clearly the values which we equate with Sweden today. In 1928 Hansson gave a memorable speech Sweden a people’s home. Its base is equality, no privileges and no discrimination. Cooperation and empathy mattered. What had to be done is to destroy social and economic barriers, because until they exist, all other values will remain only on a piece of paper.  Hansson’s speech was filled with Social Democratic ideas with highlighting the fact, that the government is the institution to conduct those changes. In 1934 subsidies were introduced for housing construction as well as insurances for unemployed, single mother allowances and state loans for young couples in order to help them start new households. In 1938 a bill granting two weeks of a statutory paid holiday was accepted. The costs of those reforms were financed from progressive taxes from the income, inheritance and wealth.

Tage Erlander, source: snl.no

Tage Erlander, source: snl.no

In 1946 Per Albin Hansson died and his position was taken by Tage Erlander. Since the end of WWII Social Democratic reforms were conducted according to an idea, that they should be available for everyone. For example, in 1948 the child allowance was reformed (it was first introduced in 1937) – now it was granted to all children under the age of 16. The sources of financing were the same as before the war. The most important change was a reform of a pension system in 1950s. From three proposals Social Democrats supported the first one, which would include introducing a pension system in which all gainfully employees would receive a compulsory supplementary pension, finance by payments from employers. Their coalition party at that time, the Agrarian Party, supported another solution. This ceased this coalition. Since that moment Social Democrats, without a majority, were governing with a support from Communists. They did not became a coalition, nevertheless the latter preferred Social Democrats in the government rather than liberals or conservatives. Stalemate emerged after the election in June 1958, when Social Democratic Party and Communists gained 116 seats in the parliament, and non-socialistic parties 115. Yet, the speaker of the parliament, who was a Social Democrat, did not have a right to vote. Despite of this equal division of votes the pension reform was passed according to the Social Democratic proposal – one of the liberals obtained from voting. In 1965 all social expanses reached 30% of the budget. In the same year the “million programme” programme was adopted by the parliament. Its goal was to build a million new housings during 10 years. It was completed within those years. During Erlander’s leadership in 1960s the paid holidays were extended to 4 weeks and the working times was shortened to 40 hours per week.

Olof Palme, source: palmefonden.se

Olof Palme, source: palmefonden.se

The biggest election success of the Social Democratic Party after the WWII took place in 1968. The year after Tage Erlander was replaced by Olof Palme, probably the most well known Swedish PM. In 1973 after the election the same story as in 1958 happened – non-socialistic parties and Social Democrats with Communists had the same number of seats in the parliament. Palme remained as a PM until 1976, when his party lost the election for the first time since 1932. The non-socialisitc government was created by conservatives, liberals and agrarians. They have different opinions regarding the use of nuclear power energy. What was making the coalition even harder to maintain was the oil crisis, which also made an impact on Sweden.The non-socialistis government didn’t survive long and Plame came back to the position of Swedish PM in 1982. Palme did not innovate the domestic policy of Social Democrats, but he is remembered for his bold foreign policy. Sweden has a long history of being a neutral country and Palme went against this policy, for example by criticizing the US intervention in Vietnam. His legend was sealed by his tragic death. In February 28th 1986 Palme was shot on his way home, when he was coming back with his wife from the cinema. The assassin was never discovered.

Social Democrats never gained back their former popularity. Together with non-socialistic parties they exchange in ruling the country. Now they are back in the government, this time in a coalition with the Green Party. PM Stefan Löfven came to Malmö to celebrate the Labour Day.

Below you can find two galleries. The first one presents bascially standard pictures from any regular march or demonstration. The second one shows you how chasing Swedish PM looked like from my perspective.

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