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Danish social democrats rejected

SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC party leader, Mogens Lykketoft, resigned on the night of Denmark’s general election (8 February), after a new defeat which was even worse than the last elections in 2001. The right-wing coalition government of Anders Fogh Rasmussen, made up of the ‘liberal’ Venstre, Conservatives, and the anti-immigration Dansk Folkeparti (Danish Peoples’ Party – DFP), secured victory with 96 seats in the 179 seat Folketing (parliament). But below the surface there is growing anger among workers and youth. Enhedslistan (Red-Green Alliance) received 113,000 votes, up more than 30,000, and increased its MPs from four to six. In the capital, Copenhagen, it won 9.2%.

The right-wing alliance has been in government since 2001, with the support of the racist DFP. It has stepped up privatisation, attacked workers’ conditions and the rights of immigrants and refugees. It participates in the US-British occupation of Iraq with 510 troops. The Social Democrats – with a history of cutting the public sector and attacking immigrants’ rights when in government – and Socialistisk Folkeparti (Socialist Peoples’ Party – SF), have continued to drift to the right.

In the election, the policies of the government and social democracy were almost identical. On the basis of a weak economic upturn, both promised more money for education, health and the elderly, but within a framework of continued privatisation. Rasmussen called the elections early when the economy started to grow again (2.4% growth in 2004, 0.3% in 2003) and opinion polls showed him ahead. The final result for the government bloc was 39.3% (-1%), with DFP on 13.1% (+1.1%). The Social Democrats fell to 25.9% (-3.2%), with SF on 6% (-0.4%). Parties criticising the government increased their votes: the ‘left-liberal’ Radikale Venstre (RV) got 9.2% (+4%) and Enhedslistan 3.4% (+1%).

The historic defeat for the previously dominant social democracy in 2001 has been followed by a crisis in the party. The trade union federation, LO, forced to recognise that the party has changed, has withdrawn DKr8 million (€900,000) of financial support. In 1998, for example, the social democratic government declared a big private-sector strike illegal. Lykketoft was finance minister at the time. Since 2001, the number of unemployed has increased by 30,000, and is at 6.4%. The LO leadership, however, has not developed any political alternative. Conservative and social democratic politicians were invited to its conference held during the election campaign.

Above all, LO lacks an answer to jobs moving out of Denmark. Local movements and actions have not become generalised. During the autumn, slaughterhouse workers went on strike against threats of wage cuts. The company concerned, Danish Crown, replied by moving 230 jobs from Ringsted to Oldenburg in eastern Germany, where wages are much lower. Many companies, including Lego, Ecco and Flextronics, have moved production abroad.

Following the 2001 elections, trade union protests culminated in a day of mass demonstrations and strikes in March 2002. In August last year, a conference of trade union activists was organised by regional LO bodies and an activist network. Many participants, however, were disappointed as no concrete programme was developed.

The biggest movement in 2004 was against education cuts: 100,000 school and college students demonstrated on 5 October, and 30,000 rallied outside parliament. Two schools in Århus were occupied. This movement, StopNOW, held an election debate in front of 1,100 students, in which Enhedslistan had the strongest support. Opinion polls have shown a strong left-wing trend among youth, with opposition to the Iraq war, racism and cuts. Enhedslistan, which is made up of several left-wing organisations, has had, without doubt, the biggest opportunity to go forward.

The emergence of the racist DFP as the third-biggest party in 2001 reflected the growing discontent with the main parties. DFP leader, Pia Kjærsgaard, described her party as a defender of health care and the elderly, and linked this to attacks on the rights of immigrants and refugees. In the 2005 elections, however, RV and its leader, Marianne Jelved, advocating a more liberal refugee policy, made the biggest gains.

The DFP stepped up its racist rhetoric in the last week of the campaign as opinion polls showed it trailing behind its 2001 result. It used text from a Norwegian racist, anti-Islamic organisation, Forum Against Islamicisation (FOMI), in a newspaper advert. FOMI became infamous when it commented that ‘fortunately’ many victims of the tsunami were Muslims. DFP’s racist advert was criticised by all the other parties, indirectly giving it credit for being ‘different’.

The DFP has loyally supported the government which, in turn, has introduced 27 changes to immigration policy. Among these is the rule which states that a Dane and a non-EU citizen younger than 24 years old cannot live together in Denmark. If both are over 24, they must deposit DKr50,000 in ‘security’. The foreign partner has to participate in an interview in Danish every second year and complete a 24-page questionnaire. This goes on for seven years, during which time the foreign spouse cannot get social benefits.

The social democrats support most of the attacks, and SF’s criticism is limited. The aim of these measures is to split the unity of the workers, while attacking all workers. During the election, finance minister, Thor Pedersen, said that lower wages for immigrants should be extended to all long-term unemployed. ‘Reforms’, such as lower pensions, are in the pipeline. Opinion polls show strong resistance to this proposed attack.

The election will have little immediate impact on the situation. The coming years, however, will be marked by renewed attacks on workers, youth, women and immigrants – particularly in light of new economic problems for Denmark and Europe. The coalition government will become increasingly hated. In coming struggles, glimpses of which have been seen already, support for socialist ideas and a new workers’ party, involving Enhedslistan, will increase.

Per-Åke Westerlund

Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI Sweden)

This is extracted from an article that first appeared in Offensiv, the newspaper of Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna.


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