By Bringing Down Sweden’s Government, the Left Party Saved Rent Controls
- Samuel Carlshamre
On Monday, Sweden's Social Democratic government lost a vote of no confidence after it tried to abandon the country's system of collective bargaining on rents. The Left Party was decisive to the defeat — and now, the proposal to introduce market rents has been dropped.
Mr Speaker, members of parliament, everyone watching from home. We find ourselves in this difficult situation today because obstinacy and arrogance have been placed above the stability of the country and the need for compromise. I find this lamentable. We all deserve a better political system. The Left Party has conceded more than any other party in the last couple of years. When the current government was formed in January 2019, it based its rule on the support of five parties: the Social Democrats, the Green Party, the Center Party, the Liberals, and the Left Party. Four of these parties made an agreement to shut the fifth one — the Left Party — out of all negotiations.
So, more than half a million voters who cast their ballot for our party were not present at the negotiating table as the seventy-three points called the January agreement were worked out. All this was done despite the fact that our parliamentary support was needed if the government would be able to rule, and thus for that very agreement to come into effect. Despite these exceedingly harsh conditions, the Left Party decided to enter a confidence-and-supply agreement to allow for Stefan Löfven to form a government. It was not an easy decision for us, but in difficult political situations one has to be able to compromise.
However, already on that day, we made it clear that there were absolute limits, beyond which this government would not have our support: we would not accept abolishing the collective bargaining rights of tenants, nor the enforcement of market rates for renters. We said: We will allow your government to rule, but if you take these specific steps, you have lost our support and you will no longer be able to govern.
We have done something that is seen as unusual for politicians: we have kept our word. This seems to have come as a surprise to the ministers of this government. It seems to have come as a surprise to them that our party acts as we promised our voters and three million tenants that we would. It is hard to think of any other explanation for the fact that the prime minister did not care to ascertain his support in parliament, despite being fully aware of our position.
In 1962, another Swedish prime minister, Tage Erlander, said the following:
There are many tasks that are too big for the individual to handle on her own, but which can be solved if we work together. Individuals build organizations to pursue their interests in collaboration, and they need the support of a strong and powerful society to ensure their safety and liberty.
Our country was built by hardworking people. Our country was built by trade unions and tenants’ associations and the other popular movements. Our country went from being one of Europe’s poorest, to being one of the richest in the world. Ours is a country where unions and employers, tenants’ unions and landlords enter negotiations to settle their interests. This is the kind of society we choose to build, because we believe that workers and tenants themselves know what is in their best interest, and should have the power to decide for themselves, at home and at work.
I am well aware of our political history, and I know how much the Social Democrats have meant for Sweden. The strong, interventionist housing policy, where rents were affordable and the standard of living high. It is a policy that has meant a lot to me personally, in giving me opportunities in life. This is the kind of country we want. This is the Sweden we want to develop, not dismantle. However, despite being the party in government today, the Social Democrats seem to have abandoned their ideals in this area as well.
We will not participate in the dismantling of the Swedish folkhemmet [the “people’s home,” which refers to the egalitarian social project of the welfare state]. It is the heart and soul of our country. It was according to this Swedish model we built our country and keep building it today. We replaced the slums with modern housing for all, and gave the children of health care workers, construction workers, and shop assistants safe and healthy homes to grow up in.
That is what we are voting on today.
The government has made it clear that it intends to implement a proposal of market rents. This would be a seismic change in Swedish housing policy. But if Stefan Löfven and Annie Lööf want to implement the system of market rents, it will not be on my watch, nor that of the Left Party. What we are about to do today has not come lightly. We have done everything in our power to reach a solution. But since no one else has been open to negotiations, we are here today — and we will keep our promises.
It is not the Left Party that has abandoned the Social Democratic government. It is the Social Democratic government that has abandoned the Left Party and the Swedish people. In such a situation, it is our responsibility as the party of workers and tenants to do as we have promised.
That is why the Left Party will today vote in favor of the no-confidence motion against the prime minister.
Ahead of us are uncertain times. However, let me be clear on one point: the Left Party will never lend its support to a right-wing nationalist government. The Left Party will always seek constructive solutions and compromises. But we also stand by our word. Someone must take the responsibility to stand up for the tenants and for the Swedish model.