Trade unionism under the Swedish social welfare state
Anderson, Michael A. (Student of economics)
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Labor, and the industrial trade union movement in particular, has played a most significant role in helping Sweden develop into what may be the most successful mixed economy of our time. Sweden provides an outstanding example of a highly industrialized nation in which successful and comprehensive social welfare programs coexist with what amounts largely to private ownership of the means of production. It may well be the prototype of the modern industrial society. The goal of this study is to examine organized labor's role in the evolution of the Swedish welfare state and in so doing to examine the Swedish system of collective bargaining. Swedish labor relations have long been noted for the amicable relations displayed by management and labor in their dealings with one another, by the general low level of strike activity and by the high degree of organization of all types of Swedish labor including even the unionization of professional workers. It is primarily the three phenomena mentioned above which are to be explored and for which explanations are to be offered in this paper. The central theme which runs throughout is that one large labor organization, the Confederation of Swedish Trade Unions (LO), has been the dominant force in the entire labor movement if not the dominant force in the whole of Swedish society. The major conclusion to be drawn from this study is that a great deal of what has occurred in the Swedish labor market, including the high degree of organization, the low propensity to engage in strike activity, and the historical labor peace, can be traced to some action of or as a reaction by some other organization to an action of the Confederation of Swedish Trade Unions. LO, largely because of its sheer size but also because it is more politically active than are the other labor organizations, has had the greatest effect on all aspects of Swedish life and is therefore examined in somewhat greater depth than are the other labor organizations. The political alliance between the Confederation and the powerful Social Democratic Party has greatly influenced the development of the welfare state which in turn has had a great effect on the system of labor relations. LO decided early that worker security could best be provided through government programs rather than through collective agreements with the employer. In this manner, the labor organization through political means has greatly facilitated the maintenance of labor market peace. The scope of collective bargaining has been reduced because fewer issues must be bargained for and thus opportunities for disagreement are reduced.