Interview with a Swedish syndicalist about the SAC, 1998

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 population

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 anarcho-syndicalist workers.

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