Swedish Employers and Trade Unions, Labor Migration and the Welfare State-Perspectives on Swedish Labor Migration Policy Debates during the 1960s and the 2000s

By Johansson, Jesper | Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies, February 2014 | Go to article overview

Swedish Employers and Trade Unions, Labor Migration and the Welfare State-Perspectives on Swedish Labor Migration Policy Debates during the 1960s and the 2000s


Johansson, Jesper, Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies


Introduction

From the perspective of political economy migration politics and policy are fundamentally about interests (Freeman, 1986, 2004). Against the backdrop of an ageing population, in Sweden and other European countries, relevant actors with an interest in migration policymaking "have become aware of how a sharp rise in the number of those exiting the labor market, particularly retirees who require increased access to costly social service, may necessitate labor migration," as Gregg Bucken-Knapp stresses (Bucken-Knapp, 2009: 34; cf. Lundqvist, 2002). Hence, especially organized interests on the labor market are actors that are involved in migration policymaking, and which look upon the nexus between migration and the welfare state as a crucial issue when they formulate their migration policy preferences.

However, debate on the impacts of labor migration for the welfare state is not only a contemporary phenomenon in Sweden. Labor migration became increasingly debated in the mid-1960s, leading to regulation and an eventual stopping of labor migration from outside the Nordic countries in 1972. Although refugee migration and family reunification has dominated immigration figures since then, the door has since 2008 been opened to large-scale labor migration from outside the EU due to a liberalization of Swedish labor migration polices.1 The article deals specifically with debates about labor migration where potential labor migrants need work and residence permits for immigration. Consequently, the common Nordic labor market since 1954 and Sweden's EU membership since 1994 and the consequences regarding intra-Nordic and intra-EU migration policy will not be dealt with.

By using a political economy approach, this article aims to explore the nexus between labor migration and the welfare state and how its specificities have been viewed and presented by Swedish Employers' Confederation (SAF), Swedish Confederation of Enterprise (SN) (the organizational successor to SAF), and Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO) in Swedish labor migration policy debates during the 1960s and the 2000s.

The study is delimited to the three central confederations: SAF, SN, and LO. Since these organizations have been deeply involved in Swedish labor migration policymaking during both historical periods investigated, they have been selected as relevant actors to study. SAF and SN have been the dominant and influential employer organizations in Swedish enterprise and concerning labor market policymaking in general, and labor migration policymaking in specific (Waara, 2012: 13-14). Regarding the positions of trade unions, labor migration mostly concerned labor market sectors of blue collar workers and trade unions organized within LO during the 1960s. The Swedish Confederation for Professional Employees (TCO) and the Swedish Confederation of Professional Associations (SACO) were not much involved in labor migration policymaking during this period as a consequence of these structural circumstances (cf. Johansson, 2008; Lundqvist, 2002). Due to changes in the overall structure of the labor market with the expansion of the service economy and the decline of manufacturing, employers in various labor market sectors as information technology, certain health services, and universities have demanded and recruited skilled migrant workers during the 2000s (cf. Cavidies, 2010: 4-5). Consequently, TCO and SACO have become more engaged in debates about labor migration policymaking during this period. Nevertheless, LO has also continued to be sincerely involved in policymaking and public debates concerning labor migration, since the recruitment of migrant workers to labor market sectors of blue collar workers once again became intensely debated in Sweden during the 2000s (cf. Bucken-Knapp, 2009; Yalcin, 2010). Since LO is the trade union confederation involved in both historical labor migration policy debates of interest in the study, it is possible to analyze its policy preferences over time. …

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