• Anders Kjellberg
Part of the The Societies of Europe book series (SOEU)


Sweden experienced a late but rapid industrialization, fostering a well-organized union movement in tandem with powerful employers’ associations and export-orientated multinationals. After being known as one of the most strike-prone countries, Sweden adopted a corporatist model with strong and co-operative labour market parties in the 1930s, while centralized bargaining became institutionalized in the mid-1950s. Until the 1970s, the main union confederation (LO) and the peak employer association (SAF) dominated the industrial arena. But their role was increasingly undermined by expanding white-collar and public sector unions. The latter profited from the expansion of the welfare state during the long period of Social Democratic government (1932–76). From the late 1960s onwards, rank-and-file protests pushed for pro-labour legislation, in particular on job security and co-determination at the workplace level. The close links between LO and Social Democrats facilitated such state intervention in the 1970s, but they broke down bipartite self-regulation, caused employer opposition, and ended Social Democratic hegemony. In the 1980s, employers dismantled centralized bargaining. Negotiations were shifted to the industry and workplace levels. Swedish unions achieved a remarkably high level of union density 80–85%) due to combined centralization and decentralization, which prevented fragmentary union coverage and allowed unions to gain access to rank-and-file members. White-collar employees are nearly as well organized as blue-collar workers, though in separate unions and confederations.


Europe Income Resis Dition Arena 


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© Bernhard Ebbinghaus and Jelle Visser 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anders Kjellberg

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