The development of anarcho-syndicalism in Sweden has been misunderstood or unknown in the international movement. We hope this year to reproduce an English summary of a definitive textbook of Swedish syndicalism. Meantime we publish a translated interview which gives some idea of its importance.
Q. What do the initials SAC stand for?
A. Svensk Arbetaren Centralorganisation, the central organisation of Swedish workers, a name that shows our desire to unite Swedish workers rather than negotiate hundreds of different contracts in different sections of the same industry, which the LO (Landorganisation, social-democratic union ) does.
Q. What is the SAC's history ?
A. At the beginning of the century, members of the LO influenced by the CGT (French revolutionary syndicalist union ) left the LO to found the SAC in 1910. They believed many LO members would follow them, following the union's trend of class collaboration in the recent large strike. It was not until 1920 that the SAC became a mass organisation, in a period of intense class struggle in which the SAC was the only organisation in which the workers could decide for themselves their actions, demands and strikes. In other words, an organisation determined to wage the class war! During the Second World War, the powerful revolutionary unions of Germany, Spain, Italy, Argentina and Mexico were all destroyed by the fascists, only the Swedish organisation remained. Sweden was neutral during the war, and the SAC had a strong anti-militarist tradition, not to be confused with pacifism. Numerous SAC militants took part in the Spanish fight against Franco. After the war Sweden prospered due to its neutrality and the belief in class struggle was minimal in the SAC, being replaced by a belief in 'people'. This 'modernisation' was brought about by so-called anarchists. Opposed to this tendency was the Syndicalist League, which was organised as a political group. They were above all opposed to all forms of anarchism. During this time, the SAC in effect transformed itself into a smaller version of the LO - an insurance company that some people joined because subscription was cheaper in some areas than the LO.
When the events of 1968/69 occurred, no-one saw in the SAC any alternative to reformism, but the organisation was influenced by cultural changes and a drop in living standards during the seventies. People were looking for a truly democratic union controlled by its membership that took ecological questions seriously and was determined to fight the bosses for better living standards. As a result, the SAC changed and is changing still, but there are still members without much of an idea of what the organisation stands for. Of 15,000 members, there are two or three thousand activists and although membership has dropped slightly, the number of active members aged under 40 years has risen. Sweden has a population of 8 millions, with a million immigrants, half of whom are Finns.
Q. I've been told that important changes occurred at a recent conference?
A. Yes. but conferences are not the place where the organisation should be changed, but through day by day experience. Conferences are simply where we see how well we have done between times. The conferences in 1975 and 1979 were important because we returned to the declaration of revolutionary aims that had been put aside in the 1950's. The constant rotation of elected delegates in the organisation for everyday tasks was brought about by conferences.
Q. What is the SAC's membership?
A. Many young people, whereas the LO spends large sums on publicity to attract young people to join. It is easier for them to join the SAC, because we accept them even if they only have summer work. All the same the SAC is more dynamic than the LO The majority of the SAC activists joined fifteen years ago, and this 'new wave' is constantly being reactivated.
Traditionally the SAC was very strong in the building trade, mining and forestry. Other members worked as tram conductors or quarrymen, these occupations now hardly exist. On the other hand there is a boom in the furniture making industry in Stockholm and other large towns, due to people who came from the north where traditional industries have shut down.
Where the SAC has progressed furthest is where there was no solid tradition, such as the public service sector, social workers and health care. There is also an important transport federation. Forestry has always been an important area for the SAC, especially in the north-east above Stockholm where there are whole villages whose inhabitants are SAC members, often due to tradition, but some are very radical.
Q. Tell me about the SAC's organisational structure?
A. Each local branch has autonomy over its own affairs and works with others on equal terms. New national decisions are made at conference. We also have a central committee made up of delegates elected directly on a local basis which meets at least twice a year. There is also the executive committee elected by conference, that meets more or less every week.
Q. Doesn't this create a sort of electioneering? What is the limit to the individual promotion of militants?
A. It has never been a problem. It's only ever been a matter of a few columns in 'SAC Kontakt' (internal bulletin) with the results of elections held in localities. If someone carried out American-style electioneering they'd look ridiculous.
Q. You also have ballots before strikes?
A. Yes, one in the workplace and also by post for national situation. Of course activists are present, and influence on a local level, but all members have a say even if they have difficulty in coming to meetings for family reasons.
Another aspect is that we didn't have members paying by wage deductions. They must make the effort of sending their subs on time.
Q. Which strikes has the SAC organised recently?
A. The main problem is that large numbers of SAC members are isolated in their workplaces. Maybe half of the SAC is with us for ideological reasons, as well as there being many people who consider us as a union first, for legal, contract and dispute support.
In 1975, there was a big illegal strike in the forestry industry, the workers wanting to revise the levels of production. The SAC was the only organisation to support the strike, and SAC members were the only ones to have their wages paid during the conflict.
Q. What happened following the strike?
A. After the victory, things settled down.
Q. Are there disputes in the public services, hospitals?
A. Not many up to now. In fact we're in the process of having an agreement, as with the city of Stockholm, to start a strike, even if the agreement with the boss has not expired. Normally, the organisation would be in an illegal position.
Q. What struggles are happening in the health sector?
A. There is a strong push from the government to privatise health care. What's more, the health workers' wages are low and there is unemployment,
Q. What is there to be said of the general level of workers in Sweden?
A. The official unemployment department says there is only 20%, but women in Sweden find work more easily than elsewhere in Europe. Internationally, we have long been second, but now are on the twelfth rung.