European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

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Strikes in Sweden

  • The right to strike is enacted as clause 2:17 in the Governmental Act, one of the Swedish fundamental laws and forcible intervention by the state is therefore very rare. The overall ban on strikes of, for instance, fire fighters is self-imposed; it is confirmed in every collective agreement, but not registered in labour law. There is further a plethora of possibilities for actions short of strike, such as blockades, partial strikes, overtime bans and also sympathy strikes. Yet there is a strongly marked dividing line between legal and unofficial (wildcat) strikes.
  • The Swedish post-war strike pattern fits into a general international picture. Yet, some features are internationally rather unique. Like in many industrialized countries, the labour market quiescence during the decades of welfare state formation was brought to an end by an upsurge of wildcat strikes at the turn of the 1970s. In the Swedish case, the upsurge also led to renewed claims for industrial democracy and the introduction of new labour market laws; some of them were implemented. Unlike in many other countries, the strike level also remained high over the 1980s. In the 1990s though, the quiescence of the 1950s and 1960s returned, with the exception of only a few but very extensive strikes, most of them in the public sector.
  • The period from the mid-1970s till the steep drop in the early 1990s has been studied in depth. The ‘typical’ strike was short, more than three out of four lasted less than a day. In about 50% of the strikes less than 50 people took part. As to the distribution over time, it is clear that strikes have been closely connected to wage bargaining rounds; nearly three quarters of them started in order to exert pressure on the wage negotiations, that is, to fight over wage drift.
  • Given the size of the labour force, the most strike-prone groups were dockworkers, miners, metalworkers, pilots, and factory workers from outside the metal industry. In other words, typically male, blue-collar workers (except for the pilots). The syndicalist union SAC showed the second highest score, but the SAC organizes workers from all occupations. If we look at absolute figures, the metalworkers were outstanding with 976 registered strikes, official and unofficial , which is four times as many as the second highest number of strikes led by one occupation, i. e. the factory workers from outside the metal industry (243 strikes), and ten times as many as the furniture and wood industry workers in the third place (108).
  • A follow-up for the years 1993-2005 showed only small differences, even if a majority of the strikes were now official and no longer wildcats as in the previous period. The dockworkers were still the most strike-prone group with regard to the total number of employees in the occupation, followed by the electricians, painters, transport workers and construction workers.