Socialist plan in Sweden would gradually take over private industry

A plan in which private ownership of industry would be abolished the economy would be run by committee could become reality in Sweden by 1987. It was drawn up by Marxist-oriented economists in the Swedish Confederation of Trade Unions and is expected to be adopted as official policy by the Social Democratic Party at its congress Sept. 25-Oct. 5.

The Social Democrats are widely expected to win a general election in the fall of 1982.

The plan calls for the establishment of so-called "wage-earner funds" (lontagarfonder).m The idea is that a percentage of companies' pre-tax profits plus a percentage of workers' wages would be allocated to collective funds which would buy shares in the companies, gradually taking them over.

The Social Democrat plan calls for the setting up of 24 such funds in 24 different local authority areas of Sweden. Boards comprising trade union officials and politicians would be elected to manage the funds and, ultimately, the industries taken over.

Per Martin Meyerson, an economist with the Federation of Swedish Industries, estimates that it would take five years for the funds to control all private industry in Sweden.

His assessment of the plan is brief: "It would be a complete disaster."

The question is, will the Social Democrats -- when the chips are down -- really opt for the funds? At present there is every reason to believe they will.

Party leader Olof Palme says: "Wage-earner funds are an absolutely essential prerequisite if we are to reconstruct the Swedish economy. Without these funds we will not be able to master the problems of an industrial society."

The party's economic spokesman, Kjell-Olof Feldt, says the funds are necessary to generate a new capital for investment in industry.

But MPs to the center and right within the party blame the funds -- and other ultra-leftist proposals -- as being one of the main reasons for the party's defeat in 1976, ending 44 years of unbroken Social Democratic rule in Sweden. They say the funds may also have cost them the 1979 election and don't want to run the risk of ruining a possible landslide victory in 1982 by making the same mistake three times.

Others argue the nation is so disenchanted with its present prime minister, slow-talking sheep farmer Thorbjorn Falldin, and the four unstable nonsocialist governments inflicted on it since 1976, that the Social Democrats can win, even with the funds as a main plank of economic policy.

Certainly the Social Democrats are in their strongest position in Sweden for more than 10 years. Opinion polls today put them so far ahead that they would have a clear majority of their own in the parliament (Riksdag),m without having to rely on the support of the Communists as they had to during their last years in power.

Falldin's present two-party minority coalition between his own Center (agrarian) Party and the Liberals struggles feebly on, with the tacit support of the Conservatives who walked out of a previous three-party coalition earlier this year.

A country now experiencing its worst-ever economic crisis, with unemployment expected to reach a record high of 100,000 out of a total workforce of 4.2 million this winter, yearns for the "good old days" of stable Social Democratic government.

In the end the passivity of the Swedish nature may allow the nation to swallow wage-earner funds without protest. Displays of temperament and contention are foreign to Swedes, whose favorite piece of advice is "Ta det lugnt"m -- "Take it easy."

Swedish industry, fearing the worst, is keeping up a remorseless campaign against "fund socialism." It could, after all, turn out to be its last stand.

A joint statement issued by the Federal of Swedish Industries, the Swedish Employers' Confederation, the Swedish Federation of Crafts and Small Medium-Sized Companies, and the Swedish Association of Family Enterprises says:

"If wage-earner funds are brought in, it will mean the transformation of the Swedish social system, since privately owned business enterprises will be taken over. We reject this change.

"Our fundamental reason is that we cannot give our support to the introduction of a socialist system in Sweden."

Leaders of industry are pretty near unanimous in their opposition to the funds.

Pehr Gyllenhammar, boss of Volvo, Sweden's immensely successful automotive company, says: "The wage-earner funds idea was born of the myth of an invulnerable and always successful Sweden. The funds would take resources that have already been created and redistribute them so that the trade union movement wins more power. What we really need in Sweden today are new resources generated by an increased ability to compete, greater profitability, and increased investment."

The Falldin government recently introduced a plan designed to head off wage-earner funds by giving tax incentives to workers investing in share funds set up by their own companies.

This increased industrial democracy and generation of new capital for investment are two of the main reasons for wage-earner funds put forward by the Social Democrats.

A mini-boom on the stock exchange resulted from the government's incentives as people rushed to take advantage of the plan. But the Social Democrats condemned it, saying they would withdraw the tax incentives when they returned to power.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.