Lessons from Sweden: Social Democracy and Trade Unions in Canada

By Van den Berg, Axel | Inroads: A Journal of Opinion, Annual 1999 | Go to article overview

Lessons from Sweden: Social Democracy and Trade Unions in Canada


Van den Berg, Axel, Inroads: A Journal of Opinion


ABSTRACT

AXEL VAN DEN BERG TEACHES sociology at McGill University. He has been involved in a series of interconnected research projects, in collaboration with Canadian and Swedish colleagues, investigating the sources of resistance to change and flexibility in Swedish and Canadian industry.

He has been especially interested in the implicit social bargain -- trading labour market security for flexibility -- that is said to underly the "Swedish Model."

This article is the fruit of a long-standing interest in "actually existing" social democracy.

The right has seized the high ground, not of morality but of power, by mindlessly restating what it has always stood for, i.e. let the market rule and let the chips fall where they may. The left says: put limits on the market and redistribute the chips. -- Mel Watkins

Some old things are good, but some old things are not so good. Those who refuse to recognize this constitute what might be called the neoconservatism of the left -- the refusal to recognize that the world has changed and that our agenda should change with it. -- Chris Axworthy

WITH 13 OF 15 EU COUNTRIES NOW RULED by left-leaning governments, reports of the death of social democracy in Europe have proven greatly exaggerated. True, most have given up many of their traditionally most cherished policy instruments, accepting the need to reduce public deficits and the size of the public sector, to deregulate markets, to privatize, cut welfare spending and so on. But the fact remains that large to very large chunks of the European electorate can still be mobilized by political parties committed to protecting the interests of the less privileged half of the population -- hardly the case on this side of the Atlantic.

Of course, especially in Great Britain and Germany, there is an important element of electoral changing of the guards in the recent successes of the European left. The same cannot be said, however, of Scandinavia where, as Henry Milner's article recounts, the Swedish Social Democrats won 36.4 per cent of the vote -- their worst showing in decades -- in last year's general election, and were still returned to power -- which they have held during 56 of the past 66 years. Clearly, whatever their current and long-term problems, the Swedish social democrats have managed to retain the support of groups of the population that in Canada have succumbed to the appeal of a Mike Harris or Ralph Klein.

The reasons for the Swedes' remarkable durability and success are, of course, complex. In this article I bring to bear the results of a decade of research in which I have been involved to address one peculiar feature of the Swedish social democratic tradition that has received less attention than it deserves, partly, I suspect, because it suits the ideological purposes of neither friend nor foe. In office, Sweden's social democrats have been remarkably prepared to flout social democratic orthodoxies and dogmas when faced with hard economic realities. For them, state interventionism, a large public sector, progressive taxation, regulation of markets, protection of jobs, and so on, are not ends in themselves but primarily means. With respect to economic policy, they have displayed an unusual willingness to "get their hands dirty," often pursuing a fairly ruthless "productivism" concerned as much with efficiency -- in particular the competitiveness of the heavily trade-dependent Swedish economy -- as with equity and social security.

At least part of the political success of Swedish social democracy is due to its tough-minded insistence on economic efficiency and productivity as an indispensable precondition for the long-term social democratic project of constructing a more equitable "people's home" (folkhem). From early on, Sweden's social democrats have tried very hard to persuade the Swedish electorate that their programmes and policies were not mere luxuries but would actually increase the efficiency and productivity of the Swedish economy.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Lessons from Sweden: Social Democracy and Trade Unions in Canada
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.