SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Socialism Today 78 - October 2003

A workers revolt against the euro

THE NO victory in the Swedish euro referendum is a strong protest from the people against those in power. The establishment is clearly shaken. The capitalist class is forced to openly discuss this ‘revolt from the working class’. At the same time, they are already preparing for revenge. A more turbulent period is opening up in Sweden.

The No to Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) campaign got 56.1% against 41.8% for the Yes campaign. This majority, of nearly 15%, was more than anyone thought likely and more than the opinion polls were recording in advance of the vote. In addition, the referendum took place three days after the murder of the foreign minister, Anna Lindh, an horrific event which undoubtedly made some people follow the call to vote Yes in her honour.

More than 65% of LO (TUC) members voted No, 66% of the youngest voters (18-21 year-olds), and 58% of women. A majority of men voted Yes. When the new electoral map of Sweden was pictured on election night on TV, the reporters at first couldn’t believe it was correct. Only in 33 out of 290 councils did the Yes vote win. It was not mainly the countryside against the towns either, as some commentators tried to present it. All cities except Stockholm and Malmö (the third biggest) voted No. The highest Yes vote was in the richest council. The referendum shows a striking class vote. In Stockholm, No won in most of the working-class areas.

"Class stands again against class", wrote Dagens Nyheter, one of Sweden’s biggest papers. "In recent decades the myth has been that class differences and class feelings are something that will slowly be written off... But what explains the result more than anything else is the anger and distrust of those that have absorbed the welfare cuts of the last few years into their own skin".

The struggles earlier this year, with the anti-war movement and the public-sector strike, had already raised the temperature. In 1994, when Swedes voted on joining the European Union (EU), they turned out to be the most EU-sceptical, with only a narrow Yes victory. Since then people have had all the cuts, a higher tempo at work, and a social crisis with more people ill than ever before and increasing alcoholism. The promises of the Yes campaign then never came true, and people wouldn’t buy it a second time.

The mood for punishing the rulers was very strong. "I just can’t vote in the same way as [prime minister] Göran Persson", one women explained. The mistrust of politicians was nearly twice as strong among No voters (56.5%) compared to Yes voters (29.7%).

Already before polling day, the Financial Times was describing the opposition as ‘a revolution’ from the grassroots. The failure of the establishment was clear when the No opinion poll lead increased every time the Yes politicians spoke. That led the ruling class to turn on Persson as a scapegoat.

Persson had already decided during the spring to go into a campaign coalition with the traditional bourgeois parties (except the Centre Party, which is against EMU). They tried to buy people’s vote. Just by walking around the streets of Stockholm you could feed yourself with the free bribes delivered by the Yes campaigners: ice cream, coffee, noodles. The Yes side spent more money per voter then George Bush did in his 2000 presidential election campaign.

When they couldn’t overcome the No lead in the opinion polls, however, Persson made a deal with the LO leaders in August. The LO congress had decided to stay neutral but now its president came out clearly in favour.

The deal set a target to increase the current surplus in the state budget – between tax income and government spending – from 2% to 2.5% of GDP, to prepare for any economic downturn arising from Sweden’s entry into the EMU. This fiscal surplus would be used to pay off the national debt and in that way, the argument went, reduce future government debt interest payments. To achieve this increase in the budget surplus, however, would mean a cut in current spending of €1.3-3.3 billion a year. Not surprisingly, this only made people more suspicious of the costs of EMU.

In fact, the economic crisis in the eurozone became a major argument in favour of No. Who believes that ‘EMU gives stability and economic growth’ when you can see the growing tensions inside the eurozone, and an unemployment rate double that in Sweden? To some extent the demands from the EMU, like the April report from the European Central Bank (ECB), show the real face of the European Union. The ECB wrote that "member countries should minimise the expenditure of the public sector and let market relations rule healthcare as far as possible".

When the deal with the LO leaders didn’t help the Yes campaign’s opinion poll standing, the bourgeoisie became furious and threw their mask away. One leading capitalist wrote an article where he argued against the idea of letting the people have their say in referendums, an opinion that now is common among those who call themselves ‘the enlightened elite’. Anna Lindh made a joint statement with the chief of Ericsson in which they agreed that it would be stupid of big business not to leave the country if No was to win. And then the LO leaders signed an article in favour of the EMU together with all the employers’ organisations.

This collaboration is remarkable but after the referendum it goes on. Many businessmen are demanding the resignation of the business minister, Leif Pagrotsky, because they say he doesn’t represent their interests as he spoke against the EMU (together with four other government ministers). Now, the presidents of the building and metal workers’ unions are demanding his resignation on the same grounds, in other words, in the interests of big business. With this referendum it is more clear than ever for the workers that the top leaders of the unions belong to another class. The fact they have not been removed already shows the unhealthy state of the union structures, but tensions are building up for future explosions.

The victory was achieved despite the official No campaign. The Left Party, the Greens, the Centre Party and parts of the governing Social Democratic Party, along with two unions, campaigned for a No vote. To front the campaign they put up some economists and other capitalists who argued against the euro. The Left Party elevated the issue of democracy into the most important one and held back the class arguments. After the referendum they stand empty, without any alternative.

The Left Party, together with the Greens and the Social Democrats, are the ruling group in nearly every county council, and this year they are carrying out bigger cuts than they have done in many years. The Left Party wants to keep up its co-operation with the Social Democratic government because it does not know how to deal with the growing anger from the workers. In the sharpened situation and more open confrontation that will follow the euro referendum result, however, it looks like it will be Göran Persson who will dump the Left Party. Already he has decided to lower company taxation, a so-called ‘compensation for the outdoorship’ (the No victory).

The No victory is a failure for the whole EU. There have only been two referendums about EMU, this one and the Danish referendum in 2000, and both were lost. The president of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, turned pale when he heard the result. Now he has come up with his own explanation: ‘A fear for what is new, and an incorrect Swedish feeling that their own democracy is superior to the democracy of other European countries’. He certainly faces problems now because the resistance from the Swedish workers to right-wing policies will also strengthen the workers’ struggle across Europe.

Elin Gauffin

Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna – CWI Sweden


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