Last month, Amber Frost of the Young Democratic Socialists attended a conference of the Sveriges Socialdemokratiska Ungdomsförbund (Swedish Social Democratic Youth League) in Uppsala, Sweden. Here is her report. - ed.
On the first day I arrived, after recovering from my jet-lag coma I was rushed to a bus where I rode to Bommersvick- a union school for socialist education that includes a conference center in an old manor as the main building, recreational facilities on a beautiful lake in the woods, and an art gallery. It was established in 1934 as an education center for members of the Social Democratic Party and up and coming union leaders. As the other internationals and I sat through a workshop on the Swedish Economic Model from veteran Anne-Marie Lindgren, it became pretty apparent that it was just as simple as it sounded.
Swedish people have free education (even throughout college). They have free health care. A living wage is standard and they have high union participation. There are various safety nets for housing and unemployment. There is 480 days of paid parental leave per child, with incentive for fathers to take half. Their stance on immigration is incredibly welcoming and they haven’t been in a war for over 200 years.
Yes, they have comparatively high taxes, but it has not interfered with the high standard of living of the Swedish people or big business (IKEA, H & M, Volvo). Everyone agrees to contribute to the welfare state because the social programs benefit not just the poorest people, but every parent, student, patient, worker and citizen of Sweden. The second day we toured the parliament building in Stockholm and learned more about their parliamentary procedure- pretty standard, and we were given some background on their current Prime Minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, from the Liberal Conservative Moderate Party. One of the most striking things about the Swedish Parliament (Riksdag) is that they have seven parties represented. Social Democrats make up the largest party of the Riksdag (34%). Reinfeldt’s party is the second largest, making up 26%, but since Prime Minister is not elected according to representation in the Riksdag, the Moderate Party still has a lot of clout. Reinfeldt’s administration is marked by goals like lowering taxes and cutting unemployment programs as “incentive” for people to find work, though he does not oppose the Swedish Welfare Model, in theory.
As far as the Social Democrats are concerned, these “adjustments” to the welfare model are a slippery slope to a less just world, where capitalism fully determines the outcome of people’s lives and goals. Although they are quick to acknowledge that their very-right party is about as right-wing as our moderate left, the Social Democrats are quick to note how quickly the tides can change, politically speaking, and consistently campaign against the right wing.
The third day was where we got to see SSU (Swedish Social Democratic Youth League) in action. From their gorgeous, modern and enormous building in Uppsala, they elected the President and Secretary General. The other international guests and I listened to a translator desperate to keep up with the frantic goings on of the discussions. They were adjusting the wording of a living document- by-laws or a mission statement, I couldn’t tell which, but something as small as changing the word “will” to “shall” was met with a hearty, “JA!”, and dealt with in a quick, efficient manner. From there it was a workshop on Swedish foreign policy, highlighting their ideas of diplomacy and multinational efforts.
On the last day there was a seminar highlighting the economic exploitation of Western Sahara, and we met the newly elected President and General Secretary of SSU. There was a warm atmosphere and talk about the goals of the future for like-minded, progressive young people. The evening ended with a formal dinner and a concert, where a huge crowd of people gathered and cheered for the SSU.
The entire experience was built on education, bonding and solidarity, and while I know that Sweden isn’t perfect, it’s impossible not to be impressed by the SSU. My admiration is not for their amazing social-democratic welfare state, or for their resources. My admiration is for their constant efforts at social justice and equality when they are already so close. They are not satisfied with opportunity for some; they will not rest until there is opportunity for all. They are on constant watch for any disintegration of or attack on their values and as they continue to build solidarity with other nations, I know that we at YDS can learn a lot from them.