Torbjörn Johansson, Negotiations Secretary

Organisational issues The next four years will be third time lucky for LO’s Negotiations Secretary Torbjörn Johansson, who already has two Congress periods behind him in the post. After the summer, negotiations will start on the Employment Protection Act. This concerns people’s opportunities to earn a living, but also power.

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This will be your third Congress period as LOs Negotiations Secretary. What will make this one different?

"The Employment Protection Act, without doubt. It is an issue that is real and urgent. Partly because it concerns people’s security of employment and ultimately their ability to earn a living. Partly because it is about power. The power between workers and employers.

Without security of employment the employer can terminate our employment just for demanding better pay and working conditions. Consequently, it is a fundamental trade union issue that we have pursued for generations."

As Negotiations Secretary your role is associated in particular with wage bargaining. In the autumn pay negotiations will resume, but is it possible to demand higher pay, in light of the corona pandemic, when many jobs have been lost?

"Wage bargaining is not possible in an acute crisis, which is why we decided in the spring to postpone negotiations. But in the slightly longer term I don’t think it makes a great deal of difference. It is possible that some jobs will have disappeared but that does not mean that we should not get our share of the cake and defend our positions against inflation and productivity increases.

The crisis has also made it clear how important LO members are to society. When many others were able to work from home, LO members were at their workplaces every day. In the shops, in the care sector, in restaurants, in public transport. It is LO workers who ensure the functioning of society."

Is that an advantage when you enter negotiations?

"That would probably be saying too much. There are always pluses and minuses. It is always the blue-collar workers who are given notice first. Many industries are having a very tough time. But is it good that it is clear who holds up society."

What is the advantage of an organisation like LO when it comes to negotiations?

"We always strengthen the weakest link. We stand in solidarity. But even the national unions that are stronger, perhaps with market forces behind them, benefit. Next time the business cycle may have turned and they are no longer at an advantage. In that way we bear a more even outcome. We act as a stabiliser for both workers and employers. It is too difficult for employers to attack a union when we stick together."

Some people believe the Swedish industrial relations model has had its day. Perhaps it is time for the legislators to take over?

"I believe rather that we are entering a renaissance period for the Swedish model. It has always been a mixture of legislation and agreements between the parties. A kind of mutual exchange where politics is responsible for some parts and the social partners for other parts. Today there is broad and extensive understanding of the model and everyone agrees how well it delivers. It is more agile than legislation and gives more stability."

Full employment and a wage policy of solidarity are LO’s goals. How well has LO succeeded so far?

"Employment is linked to wage formation. If we take out too much in wages, unemployment increases, if we take out too little there will also be unemployment. We must find the right level to increase consumption and boost purchasing power, while preventing price increases that will eliminate industries. It is a balancing act. We have held a good line there.

As regards the wage policy of solidarity, there is still work for us to do in terms of women’s and men’s pay. The gap is still far too wide. In all we do, we try to give weight to those with the worst pay. And then progress is not fast enough."

The gaps in Sweden are growing, is that an issue for LO?

"That is possibly the greatest issue of all. According to our analyses, wage formation has not contributed to widening gaps. What has contributed is companies’ profit distribution and above all taxation. Tax on income is currently higher than tax on capital, which is a terrible betrayal of workers. We need a new tax reform."