Capitalists against Markets: The Making of Labor Markets and Welfare States in the United States and Sweden

By Peter A. Swenson | Go to book overview

5
CROSS-CLASS ALLIANCE
The SocialDemocratic Breakthrough

When the SocialDemocrats came to power in September 1932, it was anyone'sguess what repercussions would follow for relations in theSwedish labor market. That the government lacked a majority in the Riksdag boded well for employers, though disunity across thebourgeois camp remained a problem. Would the government seizeits chances to manipulate divisions among employers and thethree parties to the right of the Social Democrats? Would ittake advantage of creeping doubts in the bourgeois ranks aboutthe benefits of wage reductions and lockouts? Would social democracy divide and rule?

Social Democratic control ofthe cabinet certainly did not make employers lockout-shy in anycase. Within a year, SAF threatened a gigantic sympathy action, bringing a quick end to a protracted 10-month conflict in thebuilding and construction trades. Gratified by a 1934 editorialin Dagens Nyheter, a leading Liberal newspaper, SAF's executive director S—lund noted that lockouts were not as unpopular as “we had reason to fear earlier. ” Employer leaders excitedly congratulated each other on theirmost important solidaristic victory ever—a dramatic downwardleveling of wages in the building trades, and in the process, between that sector and manufacturing. As building activity resumed, SAF's vice director Ivar Larson marveled to the leader ofthe Finnish employers' confederation that the lockoutweapon “has not been blunted”, but rather “still has its old edge. ” Two years later, Larson glowedwith satisfaction that SAF had been extremely successful incontrolling wages and that other basic contract terms had in noway been “softened up. ” They were “if anything even sharpened. ” In sum, despite social democracy, “the Swedish employer is still lord of his manor” (herre i sitt eget hus), he boasted to his Finnish correspondent. Thus, SAF remained, in its own estimation, “oneof the most powerful industrial employers' organizationsthe world over. ” 1

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