SWEDEN, an amazing economy to many utopians or to the naive about capitalism, is experiencing pains that capitalist economies feel. Capitalist crisis has already torn down that façade of the utopia. Ordinary citizens in Sweden see the dream demolished. It is manifested in politics, in electoral process in Sweden. At the same time, ordinary citizens try to stand against deceptions that all varieties of bourgeoisie politics practise. The following interview of Bosse Kramsjo, a participant in an ongoing Occupy Movement, about 20-month long, to save a hospital, narrates the movement.
Bosse, now engaged with ecological farming along with his wife Maria Norgren, has written books and articles exposing capitalist development, NGO trickery and micro-credit business. To Bosse and Maria, engagement with ecological farming is part of their struggle against profit-driven, chemical-stuffed agriculture-industry owned by big companies. Bosse was a faculty member in a development studies related institute run by the Swedish government. The movement shows the Occupy Movement, in many forms, illuminates areas in regions far away from the heart the movement originated. The Occupy Movement also shows that people initiate moves in areas and at times, the mainstream abandons.
Question: There is a movement going on. Please, tell us about the movement, and its background.
Bosse Kramsjo: Sweden is organised in three levels: government with ministries taking care of national issues, regional level (20 Landsting or regions) taking care of, among other areas, health, and municipality level (290 municipalities) responsible for compulsory education, care of the elderly and many local level issues. The three levels have democratic elections at the same time every fourth year. In the election held in September 2014, the Social Democratic Party, together with the minor Green Party, formed a majority leading the Region of Västernorrland (comprising the municipalities of Sundsvall, Ånge, Timrå, Härnösand, Kramfors, Sollefteå and Örnskoldsvik, about 500 km north of the capital). The Social Democratic Party was having a stronghold in this part of Sweden (around 40–50 per cent in most of these municipalities).
There are three hospitals within the region; distances from each other are quite vast. The regional main hospital is in Sundsvall while smaller units are in Örnsköldsvik and Sollefteå. Before the 2014 elections, the Social Democrats promised to keep all the three hospitals with their full capacity. However, after the elections, it was decided to shut down the maternity ward and the emergency surgery in Sollefteå. Without an emergency surgery facility, you cannot have a maternity ward. This was a betrayal to all the voters around the Sollefteå hospital, mainly voters from the municipalities of Sollefteå and Kramfors as they had cast their votes to safeguard the future of the nearby safe health care facility. Delivery cases were directed to the maternity ward in Sundsvall, 130–200km away for the inhabitants of Sollefteå municipality. This deceit was the main cause of the process, leading to a movement by organising rallies, campaigning and a 24/7 occupation of the entrance of the hospital in Sollefteå since January 30, 2017.
The uninterrupted Occupation Movement plans to continue until the emergency and maternity wards are reopened. There are four shifts of the Occupation Movement: 07:00–12:00, 12:00–16:00, 16:00–20:00 and the over-night shift 20:00–07:00. At least five participants join every shift at daytime; during the night shift, it is sometimes five participants, and sometimes it comes down to three to four participants.
During the daytime, participants talk over cups of coffee while some female members carry with needlework, crocheting or knitting. Quite often friends or workmates join, and to sit together. Sometimes it is colleagues having a meeting while occupying. Sometimes, people from clubs or societies join the occupy protesters. At times, a family brings their children; and if it is during the night shift, it turns out like a camping experience for the kids.
During the night shift, it is some talks to start with, then, watching TV news, and then preparing the inflatable beds for the night. When a shift follows another, there is some talks/gossip among the participants of the two shifts.
According to Swedish law, every citizen irrespective of income level or place of residence has the right to equal health care. Those who defend the decision to close down in Sollefteå opine that the treatment in Sundsvall is superior and that distance is a minor problem. Those against the shutdown decision claim that three full-fledged hospitals were promised during the election campaign. Moreover, the long distance is a vital problem for childbirth; and it is against the law.
Another important part of the background is the ongoing process of centralisation in the Swedish economy, which is going on for decades. Marginalised municipalities in the north are with meagre employment opportunities due to heavy mechanisation in forestry and mining. These municipalities have an ever increasing elderly population pyramid, high costs for municipalities and low inflow of tax (around 27–34 per cent of an ordinary employee’s income goes to municipality tax to cover the municipality service costs; the richer municipality has the lower tax, and the poorer municipality has the higher tax). Big companies within hydropower, forestry and mining sectors do not pay taxes in the municipality although these companies in the area exploit the rivers, timber or ore. These companies pay taxes in Stockholm or overseas. Therefore, it is natural resources being exploited in the marginalised parts of the country, but very little return from these companies to the local societies. The same goes for big scale investment in wind-power over the last few years. All these are in the marginalised parts of the country while income generated from the marginalised parts goes to the centre.
The same is the government presence in the marginalised parts as well. The centralisation of the government presence has been going on for long; some municipalities have no government presence at all. That has been cut off. No employment service office, no social insurance office, no tax office. The feeling of being left behind by the government policies is prevalent in the marginalised parts, no matter which political party you sympathise with.
There is a government distribution system between rich municipalities and poor municipalities. A minor part of income of the rich municipalities is forwarded to marginalised ones. This had led to an urban view declaring the marginalised municipalities as dependent and draining, being looked down upon by the big city citizens. However, the marginalised parts would like to have their fair share of all that is produced in their localities, instead of small subsidies from the rich cousins. They ask the stiff-lipped urbanites: Where do you get electricity from (hydropower and wind power)? Your steel? Your paper and stationary? Your construction timber?
It is also very provoking, from a marginalised point of view, when the maternity ward in Sollefteå is closed due to budget cuts, some per mille of the total regional health budget (15.8 million SEK a year as the total cost for the Sollefteå maternity ward) although enormous investment are being made in the new Karolinska Institutet, a mega-hospital in Stockholm. There, through that hospital-investment, billions of SEK have been flowing into pockets of domestic and foreign construction firms; golden and extremely costly consultant contracts have been signed; and a flow of over-priced equipment have been supplied by entrepreneurs. All these were praised by new-liberal leaders in the Stockholm Region, as they are serving their profit hunting supporters rather than the health needs of the citizens.
Question: How was the 24/7 Occupy Movement organised?
Bosse Kramsjo: It was organised not by any political party, but by citizens who are concerned and deceived. Leadership of the movement came often with vast professional experience from the health sector. Over time, national as well as regional level party leaders have visited the movement. The leftist and feminist ones were promising to reopen the closed down parts of the hospital, and the neo-liberal ones were going for privatisation with the scope of the same kind of reopening.
Question: Why this sort of movement?
Bosse Kramsjo: As the majority of the region, Social Democrats plus Green Party, deceived their voters, ordinary people did this to safeguard their legal right to health care.
Question: What achievement this movement has so far made?
Bosse Kramsjo: As mentioned above, many party professionals have visited and made promises in favour of Sollefteå hospital. The Social Democratic Party in the nearby municipalities Sollefeå and Kramfors is supporting the movement, against the will of the regional and national levels of the party. We had elections in September 9, 2018. In the regional election, the Social Democrats and the Green Party were heavily punished by the voters; decreasing their mandate a lot. The parties promising to reopen the Sollefteå hospital fully-fledged increased their mandate. However, it will take time, before the new setting of the political leadership of the region is in action. However, the movement definitely had an important influence.
Question: What is the strength of this movement?
Bosse Kramsjo: The engagement of ordinary people, which is not a traditional party-driven affair, is one of the strengths of the movement. The leadership of the movement is versed in health related economy and administration. The movement and the Occupy is continuing; it will be two years this by January 2019. This persistence is very important. There was lots of support from individuals, organisations, etc from all over the country. The Occupy Movement, many identify it as sit-in, is well known. Television teams including BBC from a number of European countries have visited the Occupy Movement. Their purpose was mainly to report about a Swedish welfare programme cracking as many praised the Swedish welfare system for decades. A Russian media team was there to report; its conclusion was that the welfare crumbled due to the immigration. Depending on ideology, you can find any kind of cause.
Question: And, weakness?
Bosse Kramsjo: Many of the occupants are senior (a majority of citizens in the northern inland municipalities is). So far, some 2,800 different individuals have occupied the position. Many are doing it on a regular basis (like Maria and I, one night 20:00–07:00 every fortnight), some are occupying several times a week. Many supporting a fully-fledged hospital do not take part in the Occupy Movement/sit-in. They might find it too ‘political’; they have never taken part in action-oriented stands. They probably feel shy and think that you have to be skilled at arguing, if you take active part. Thousands of cars in the region have stickers saying, ‘I support Sollefteå hospital’; in shops and in companies you see posters expressing the same support.
One weakness is, of course, that none of the big political parties (neither at national nor at regional level) is supporting the re-opening of the full-fledged hospital. However, that itself is the main reason for the creation of the movement.
Question: How are you trying to overcome the weakness?
Bosse Kramsjo: Before the September 9 elections this year, the movement had a number of seminars asking the political parties about their stands on this issue. Every party had to make their position on Sollefteå hospital clear. The outcome was up for those supporting the hospital issue, very much down for those sticking to the need of saving money and keep Sollefteå hospital capacity down.
Question: What is the movement’s implication on society, politics, culture and organisation?
Bosse Kramsjo: There is a lot of support at national level. The Occupy Movement/sit-in is known all over the country although many big city dwellers cannot put Sollefteå on a Sweden map. Local companies are supporting with fruit-baskets, coffee-machine, television-set, etc. An exhibition about giving birth in cars on way to far away maternity ward was held. Many radio and television programmes and debates about the issue have been broadcast/telecast.
I like to present a perspective to the scene:
A lot of regional, as well as national and local (municipality), level politics is how to restrict tax-financed activities, how to save money, how to stick to budget are essential issues in the current ‘politics’? It’s widely propagated. To be ‘responsible’ is to be very strictly sticking to budget. A ‘successful’ leadership is managing to use less money than budgeted, all this in tax-financed activities. Tax income for all three administration levels has decreased heavily after the eight years of neo-liberal rule. They ‘reformed’ the taxation system five times, ‘more money in your purse’, leading to vast holes in the tax-financed sector. This is the main reason behind the lack of resources for the public sector.
The new-liberal era has introduced private actors in the health, elderly care and education sectors. It is called ‘freedom of choice’. This means that the big city can offer dozens of alternatives within each of the sectors while the only health clinic in rural centres is wiped out. Market has taken over from need and legal right.
The Social Democrats, the Greens and the left try to minimise the profit level of private education companies (called Free Schools in Sweden, another example of new-liberal word washing, as a more accurate term would be profit-seeking schools) in the parliament. A maximum of annual 7 per cent profit was their proposal. This was called communism in one of the big dailies (perhaps we have to find out what communism is actually about?). They were voted down in the parliament.
Nowadays, private companies are well established within the health sector. Modern capitalism has very successfully entered the scene of tax-financed sectors, a fresh area to make profits. Private recruiting companies are buying doctors and nurses. When regional hospitals cannot recruit (as the doctors and nurses have already listed themselves with the private recruiting companies), they are forced to turn to the recruiting companies. It becomes expensive. There are examples of doctors cutting gold as rented professionals, rented nurses earning two-three times more than the regular staff with long experience. The main reason for the region having enormous budget deficit is their bills for rented professionals. It’s part of the new-liberal success-story. However, it is expensive for the taxpayers.
Farooque Chowdhury writes from Dhaka.
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