Monday, 24 August 2009
35th SSU Congress: Nobody does it better than the Swedes
Recently I attended the 35th SSU Congress in Sweden in my capacity as International Secretary of SDLP Youth. The theme for the conference was “En annan värld är möjlig!” or “another world is possible!” Over 400 delegates from Sweden and 100 international colleagues from all over the world were in attendance.
Although the SSU (Swedish Social Democratic Youth League) are one of the largest and strongest social democratic youth movements in Europe, both in terms of membership and finances, I was still extremely impressed at the sheer level of organisation within SSU and the overall high standard of the Congress itself.
During the Congress international guests had the opportunity to participate in a range of seminars and workshops.
On Sunday international guests arrived, with some coming as far as USA, Canada, South Africa and Mozambique. We participated in the opening of the Congress by Mona Sahlin, the leader of the Swedish Social Democratic Party (SAP), and Jytte Guteland, the Chairperson of the SSU. Both of their speeches were inspiring and motivational, setting a strong tone for the rest of the Congress.
On Monday we visited Bommersvik the spiritual home of SSU. Bommersvik is a farm and recreational retreat set deep in countryside south-west of Stockholm. It was bought by SSU during the 1950s and has since been converted into a conference centre with accommodation facilities to cater for SSU seminars and political get-togethers.
SSU rents out the conference and accomodation facilities and the acres of farmland are leashed to local farmers- with SSU using the generated income to support the work of their organisation. What amazed me was that SSU actually owned Bommersvik- it belonged to them. It was truly an inspiring place and a central asset to SSU- in real estate value alone Bommersvik must be worth at least over £1 million!! It reminded me somewhat of Superman’s Fortress of Solitude where he would go to reenergise, motivate and reinvent himself altogether.
It was this trip that made me fully realise the extent and calibre of SSU and just how well organised and resourced the organisation really are. It is this commitment to organisation that is the reason that social democrats win in Sweden almost at every election. And it is this dedication to organisation that has made SSU a strong social force not only in Sweden but internationally as well- with regular SSU-funded exchange programmes being organised between SSU branches and sister organisations in places such as Palestine and Lebanon.
In Bommersvik we discussed the Swedish Social Welfare Model with Anne-Marie Lindgren, the chief ideologue of the Swedish Social Democrats. Even with masters dissertation-level knowledge of the Scandinavian Social Model I still found this an informative discussion and it reinforced to me just how seriously the Swedes take social welfare. Social welfare policies are run-through everything in Sweden.
It is this discussion that reminded me of my initial thoughts upon arriving in Sweden. When I first arrived I noticed how expensive everything was- particularly the price of beer(!). The Swedish welfare system is reliant on tax. The purpose of high VAT levels on a beer, for example, and the highly-taxed cost of living is to subsidise the high levels and standard of social welfare provision that the country has come to expect.
In Sweden there may be a much higher level of taxation and a high cost of living- but this is off-set by higher wages, a higher standard of living, a social welfare system that is probably the strongest in Europe and poverty rates that are among the lowest in Europe.
On Tuesday we visited Stockholm and enjoyed a trip to the Swedish Parliament where we discussed the current domestic political situation. The conservative-led coalition currently in power in Sweden has performed very poorly in addressing the current economic crisis. Currently there is an unemployment problem, very rarely experienced by contemporary Swedes due to traditionally low unemployment rates, with many Swedes either currently unemployed or facing the grim prospect of future unemployment.
While the current unemployment rate of 9.8% may not seem that bad – comparatively to some us in countries experiencing much worse conditions - it does represent 460,000 people out of work from a population of about 8 million. This figure represents an increase in unemployment by nearly 50% since this time last year (6.0%). It is certainly a crisis- but the situation would be much worse in the absence of such a strong social welfare model.
Youth unemployment is currently a major problem, just like it is all over Europe, with 29% of 15-24 year olds out of work currently. Sweden however does distinguish itself in that unemployment among young Swedish people in relation to unemployment among those aged 25-74 was the highest in the EU in 2008. This situation has led to a SSU campaign against the current Swedish Conservative Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt. The campaign “gör Fredrik Reinfeldt arbetslös innan du är” means “make Reinfeldt unemployed before you are”.
On Wednesday we met Jan O Karlsson, a former Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, and discussed Swedish Foreign Policy and neutrality with him.
During the Congress I had the unique opportunity to hold talks with delegates from Iraq and the Fatah Youth movement in Palestine to discuss the respective conflict situations. It was a tremendous personal honour to meet with social democratic colleagues from Iraq and Palestine and to have the opportunity to discuss with them areas of mutual learning and cooperation in conflict resolution and peace-building.
We as socialists and social democrats want to help build a better world- a world that is free from conflict. “Another world is possible” but for that to happen we socialists and social democrats must work together, and stand together in solidarity, and stay true to our ideals of social justice, peace and democracy.
The SSU Congress was a great experience and it was such a real pleasure to meet so many interesting and nice people from all over the world. The fact that the Congress was such a success is truly a testament to SSU and can be put down to the hard work of those involved in the organisation. A special thanks to Magnus Manhammar the SSU International Secretary, Isabel Lundin the SSU ECOSY Bureau Member and all the SSU volunteers Assa, Niclas, Emile, Ahmed, Darina and Calle for their good humour and fantastic hospitality.