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Swedish Trade Unionism—A Renewed Social Movement?

Abby Peterson
University of Gothenburg
Abby Peterson
University of Gothenburg
Mattias Wahlström
University of Gothenburg
Magnus Wennerhag
University of Gothenburg
Open Panel

Abstract

Claims as to the emergence of a new phase of unionism—social movement unionism—returning to its original ‘counter-cultural roots’, are closely allied with the claims as to a ‘new labour internationalism’ that is a significant break from the influential post-war trend of nation-statist unionism. From the horizon of the Swedish labour movement we will interrogate these two popular paradigms. On the basis of questionnaires distributed among marchers during the 2009 May 1st labour demonstrations in Gothenburg and the 2010 May 1st labour demonstrations in Stockholm, we will evaluate the potential among grassroots union activists to lend their solidarity to labour struggles beyond Sweden’s borders, as well as their political concern in general for the wider global issues of environmental threats, third world poverty, and human rights—indications of support for a new labour internationalism. Furthermore, we will analyze grassroots unionists’ support for social movement actors, as well as to their positions regarding the action strategies commonly used by SMOs—indications of support for a new social movement unionism. On the basis of interviews with union officials, together with relevant union documents, we will investigate union leadership’s position towards trans-border cooperative efforts within the European Union Movement, as well as towards collaboration with other social movement organizations on specific issues. The questions we will be posing focus the Swedish Labour Union’s position towards international labour strategies in the face of the global economic and climate crises and whether these positions can be interpreted as including international solidarity or rather, explicitly or implicitly, elements of chauvinism, paternalism and/or protectionism.