A conversation between Brian Bamford and Lars Hammarberg of the Swedish trade union federation the SAC (Sveriges Arbetares Central Organisation, or the central organisation of Swedish workers).
Entitled "SAC: The Swedish connection" this is an interview with
an SAC member about the anarcho-syndicalist union, the largest
anarcho-syndicalist organisation in the world relative to its host country's
What follows is a conversation between Brian Bamford and Lars Hammarberg of
the Swedish trade union federation the SAC (Sveriges Arbetares Central
Organisation, or the central organisation of Swedish workers) which has been
in existence since 1910 and identifies itself [libcom edited from "has
often identified itself"] with anarcho-syndicalism and revolutionary syndicalism internationally.
BB: How are things in Sweden with the SAC?
LH: Hard times we are having. In June 1994 the decision to raise union dues
at the congress sowed the seeds for a later split. In 1995-96 the membership
went down from 13,000 to 10,000 when some local branches dropped out. The rise
in union dues had been done democratically, but some people used it as an
excuse to get out. Personality clashes were also a problem. But more recently
some of the individuals have returned and new branches have been set up.
BB: Where is the main strength of the SAC- in which industries?
LH: Formerly the SAC was strong in the country areas among the loggers and
farm workers, but now the SAC has more support in the big towns and cities
among social workers and factory workers.
BB: How are the trade unions set up in Sweden?
LH: There are four central trade union federations: the LO (TUC) with a
social democratic ideology, the TCO for white collar workers, SACO for
academic and professional employees and the SAC organisation of radical and
BB: How do you see the international situation generally?
LH: Recently we have had the good example of the Liverpool dockers. This
dispute produced massive international backing throughout the world. The SAC
gave many thousands of pounds sterling to the dockers. We have continuing
contact with the dockers' organisation, which is currently organising a
co-operative. It seems to me that the communist parties are finished
generally. In Sweden they try to make an impact on the Social Democratic LO
union federation, but have little impact on events. The Labour Parties and
Social Democrats are everywhere compromised. In Sweden itself our situation is
stagnant, but there is a good opportunity for agitation among the young, who
are looking to anarchism.
BB: What are your relations with the Spanish anarchist syndicalist unions?
LH: We have excellent relations with the Spanish CGT (anarcho-syndicalist).
Our contact with the CNT (anarchist) is limited, as they do not respond to
invitations to our SAC's congresses (the next being held in June this year).
The reason, I think, they don't have contact with us is because they consider
us 'reformist'. They believe we want only to have relations with their rivals
in the CGT, but this is not true. The SAC does not take a position on the
problems between the Spanish anarcho-syndicalist unions.
BB: What do you make of the International Workers' Association (IWA/AIT) ?
LH: Some SAC members want us to join the IWA/AIT, if we are invited - they
think it best if the syndicalists have an international organisation - but
others don't want membership because they see it as authoritarian, orthodox,
and would try to dominate the SAC. I don't think the IWA will invite us to
join, and I don't think we should join.
BB: What about the formation of another International ?
LH: The SAC has no plans for forming another International. We try to keep
good relations with other foreign organisations everywhere. Also the IWA/AIT
would be hostile to a new International. They would see it as a declaration of
war. The policy of the SAC now is to have good contacts with all syndicalist
unions and anarchist groups. We also have good contacts with unions which
don't call themselves anarcho-syndicalist but who act 'syndicalist'. We have
relations with UniCOBAS in Italy, USI also in Italy, the SUD in France (which
has postal workers and teachers among its members), the CNT in France, the IWW
in the USA, the SOC in Spain, NSF in Norway, FAUD (anarcho-syndicalist) in
Germany as well as contacts in Lithuania and in Russia with KAS and small
anarcho-syndicalist groups in Siberia.
BB: Are there specific anarchist groups in Sweden?
LH: Yes, a lot of anarchists are organised in the SAC. Some are interested
in feminism and veganism, others in environmental things like motorways.
BB: Is the SAC involved in cultural things?
LH: The youth journal in a recent issue covered Chumbawamba, with several
pages of interviews with band members. That paper is called Direkt Aktion, but
our magazine Arbetaren (worker) has pages on culture, theatre, film, books,
the visual arts and music. Punk music tended to be important in bringing in
both young and older people to the SAC. Folk singing has also been important
for us in Sweden. The famous folk singer Ewert Ljusberg, who frequents Swedish
television, is a member of the SAC.
BB: A perennial criticism of the SAC has been its involvement in the
payment of dole benefit. Jim Pinkerton, a secretary of the Syndicalist
Workers' Federation in the 1960s, tells me that this was continually brought
up at international congresses from way back. Can you explain ?
LH: To understand this one must have some grasp of Swedish cultural
background and our historical way of doing things. You havc your welfare
system and many UK anarchists and syndicalists no doubt take advantage by
drawing state benefits. All the trade union federations in Sweden assist in
the distribution of the unemployment benefits. The other federations also
administer other social benefits. The trust fund which distributes the
unemployment benefit is not controlled directly by the SAC union federation.
The trust fund is legally separate from the actual trade union structure. Your
campaign on the Job Seeker's Act seems interesting. The actions like the
occupation of job centres, the demonstrations against the persecution of
claimants and the militancy of the activists we would find interesting. The
SAC, though it pays out the unemployment benefits, has no involvement with the
punitive aspects of enforcing and policing the unemployed - that is in the
realm of the state bureaucracy.
From Freedom, Spring 1998