I österled om full sysselsättning

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Enligt Sören Kirkegaard levs livet framlänges och förstås baklänges. Ungefär så blev mitt gästspel i Slovakien i vart fall. Fack, arbetsgivare och stat bjöd in till en slags hearing där partsföreträdare från Tyskland, Österrike och Sverige fick berätta om sina respektive arbetsmarknadsmodeller.

Beställningen var något diffus. – Please, speak about the Swedish Model mr Jonsson, var det svar jag fick när jag försökte att reda ut temat. Först efteråt förstod jag att det hela egentligen handlade om att förmå arbetsgivarföreträdarna att medverka i samverkansförhandlingar. Allt i syfte att lägga grund till en bättre fungerande arbetsmarknadsmodell i Slovakien.

Hursomhelst, jag hade valt att fokusera på frågan om sysselsättning och inflation. Om slovakerna blev nöjda lär jag aldrig få veta. Språkbarriärerna var påtagliga. Här är mina anteckningar.

The most difficult and complicated problem in the political economy is how to combine full employment and low inflation. How do you create stable conditions and real wage increases on the labour market? There are different ways to deal with this fundamental problem. It is in connection with the fundamental problem one find discussions about so called “models”.

Every country got their own “model”. They are seldom chosen. Models are inherited from your predecessors arguments and compromises. Models that successfully deals with the fundamental problem of full employment and low inflation becomes fashionable. Over the last three decades we have had Danish, New Zeeland’s, Dutch, Austrian, German, American success stories – and failures. Models are not easy to change. There’s are great tendency to “path-dependency”. As I said labour market models are seldom chosen. They develop.

The Swedish model had its glory years in the 1950-1960’s when full employment was combined with low inflation. That changed in the 1970-1980’s when we had full employment, but higher inflation. An economic crises struck Sweden in the early 1990’s, since than we have had low inflation instead, but with growing unemployment. One of the main focuses in Swedish political debate currently is how to combat mass employment. It is the main task of the Swedish Trade Union movement.

All primary actors in the political economy have different responsibilities in solving the fundamental problem. The trade unions have to aim for, and create, a framework which gives a calm and stable wage cost development. Our underlying interest is of course to create real wage increases and full employment. I will not go into detail about how full employment and inflation relates to each other. Let me in this context mention that the wage cost development is of great importance.

What are the characteristics of the Swedish model? The elements which underpin the model are in fact common to most Nordic countries.

1) A high degree of collective autonomy for the trade unions and employers. Non-intervention by the state is the general rule. The state simply trust the social partners to do their job, and the constantly take that responsibility.

2) Collective bargaing and collective agreements are the primary instruments for regulating the working life. That doesn’t mean that there is no state intervention, but in the area of wages and pay autonomy prevails.

3) Recognition of each others interests. Employers and trade unions respect their opposite roles and functions. In this context it might be important to mention that trade unions also embraces technological change and productive increasing measures.

All of this is made possible because collective bargaining and collective agreements encompasses all workers (both blue and white collar workers) as well as all sectors and bransches of the economy. The high degree of unionization, both on the side of the workers and the employers, is a precondition for this. One should also mention the importance of the relatively high level of social welfare in Sweden. The welfare state support transitions on the labour market and lay the foundations for the wide acceptance of technological change.

However, I believe that what are of interest for you are probably not these characteristic elements in themselves. Not much of this is easily transplanted or transformed into other labour market models. Solutions to the fundamental problem of combining low inflation with full employment are closely connected to cultural ideas and socio-economic factors.

Let me instead focus on three important experiences from the early development of the Swedish model. Fundamental insights that developed under a long time period;

Firstly, cooperation is good for both parties. Conflicts cost for both employers and workers. It is from the production that real wage increases and profits come. However, in order to find a cooperative culture one needs to have conflicts. Cooperation in Sweden grew from large and vast numbers of conflicts.

Secondly, both parties have to build their strength on a long term basis. Both parties must have a common understanding of the importance of long term strength. It took almost 50 years for trade unions in Sweden to build this long term strength. It is on strength that you lay the foundation for mutual respect and acceptance of each others interest.

Thirdly, self confidence, both sides have to trust their strength and ability to uphold their position in collective bargaining and legislative matters.

It is, finally, at this stage very tempting to enter discussion of the euro and its framework. Has the introduction of the euro made it more difficult for its member states to deal with the fundamental problem of combining full employment and low inflation? Or is it in fact a possibility. I will stop myself here by concluding that I believe that fundamental problem has to be solved at the national level. Do not expect EU to that for you.