Thorwaldsson is the current chairman of the Workers' Educational Association. File photo: Scanpix
LO, blue-collar unions

Men to take over a weakened union organization

Men are expected to take the reins when Sweden's blue-collar trade unions' umbrella organization LO holds its congress next weekend. But it is a weakened union organization that tries to stake out its future path.

The current LO head, Wanja Lundby-Wedin, is ending her 12-year stint at the top of the organization. Her deputy head Ulla Lindqvist is also stepping down.

Two of the three in the leadership were women, now men are expected to hold all positions. Karl-Petter Thorwaldsson, a former chairman of the Social Democrats' youth organization SSU, is set to become the head of LO.

When Lundby-Wedin took over LO in 2000, 83 percent of Swedish workers were connected to a union. By 2011, union membership dropped to 67 percent, reports news agency TT.

"It's important that we have unions, but tight staffing at smaller workplaces make it harder for people to find time for union work," says Anders Kjellberg, labor union professor at Lund University.

Kjellberg says changes in the labor market with fewer workers are one obvious reason that there are fewer potential LO members. He says the labor environment has been transformed, with more people working in industries like the retail and restaurant branches, which have a weaker union tradition.

A rise in temporary work, especially among young people, is another hurdle for the unions. "That's the biggest challenge we face," says Wanja Lundby-Wedin.

The center-right governing Alliance changed the rules for unemployment benefits insurance when they took over in 2006, another reason for LO's drop in membership, because the rules made it more expensive for most people to have the insurance.

Since 2006, LO has lost every seventh member. Kjellberg says the LO leadership is partly to blame for not explaining the consequences of a center-right government's win in 2006. "I think they were asleep at the wheel," he says.

The LO leadership is now saying it will launch an investigation into the pension and welfare systems.

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