Martin Linder is the general secretary of Unionen, which organizes over 600,000 people. He tells Radio Sweden there has never been such a big gap between them and the industrial companies this close to the wage negotiations.
“As a trade we always want to close and sign an agreement, but to be able to do this, the employers have to move and be part of a consensus about how the economy is doing in Sweden, in Europe, and globally, and the employers’ organisation is very far from us and from other people to describe the state of the economy.”
A three-year agreement in Swedish industry is coming to an end and the stakes are high. Unions want to get higher pay and an improved pensions deal for their members, and they point to the strong growth in the Swedish economy in their defence of asking for 2.8 percent.
But industry employers, in a sector that depends on exports, say this is no time to make Swedish workers cost corporations more, and that this risks pushing jobs abroad.
With positions so entrenched, and with the sides sniping at each other with poster advertising campaigns on the Stockholm metro, it seems possible that talks could break down and result in strikes or lock-outs.
Martin Linder at Unionen says “we will do everything we can to make an agreement, it is in our DNA, to solve difficult situations”, but he underlines it has to be the employers who change their stance, not his group of unions. “They have to come around to our side of the playground".
But there is another axis of conflict further complicating the situation. Other unions, for example those representing nurses and other public employees, say the industrial unions are holding them back, and they refuse to stick to the tradition of a benchmark, established in 1997, where wage increases are supposed to be set by the amount won by the unions in the industrial export industries.
Martin Linder says it is a problem for his union if the others, representing nurses, builders and others ask for their 3.2 percent.
“If many others make an agreement which is far over what we have made in the industry then we have a really big problem, and maybe you must come to the conclusion that the model we have had in the last twenty years does not work anymore," he says
Negotiations for the industrial collective agreement will continue through the Easter public holiday, to the end of March, but there is no guarantee this very tough round of talks will deliver the Easter egg that unions are hoping for.