Across Europe politics is changing, perhaps even dramatically. Even in Sweden, our ways of ‘doing politics’ have changed. Little is known regarding the relationships between ‘old social movements’, namely traditional civil society organizations, and ‘new social movements’, which emerged during the 1960s. The Swedish project will focus on how new social movements have impacted the styles of protest, the protest agendas, as well as the membership base of the old social movements, with emphasis upon Sweden’s trade unions. Vice versa, it will be investigated how traditional organizations have influenced the styles of protest and the political agendas of Sweden’s new social movements, both by means of straightforward inclusion in decision-making processes, and by hostility towards more ‘contentious’ forms of political action, like street demonstrations.
Traditionally, the democratic legitimacy of the Swedish welfare state was based on close relations between labour market actors and the state, in which trade unions played a central role, for both political mass participation and social inclusion. During the last 10-20 years, this model has been both called into question by different political actors and challenged by new systems of governance imposed on a European level, as well as on a global level. Thus, to see how the different actors of the labour market adopt to these new conditions is crucial—to gain knowledge on the role of trade unions as political and social actors in today’s world, finding new forms for political participation and social inclusion and thereby establishing legitimacy for the welfare state. One working hypothesis is that this situation may open up for a greater interest on the part of trade unions (or some trade unions) to seek cooperation with other political actors, for example, new social movement networks and groups (Wennerhag 2008: 200-2001). In other words, the new political climate emerging might make traditional organisations more receptive to coalition building with these (new) political actors, which can be disentangled both on an organizational level (e.g. inter-movement collaboration) as well as on an individual level (e.g. overlapping memberships). In short: How does ‘old organization Sweden’ interact with ‘new movement Sweden’?
As shown in Figure 1, within the general ESF project the Swedish project is principally focused on the mobilizing and demonstration context of contentious protest: in what way is a specific type of demonstration (e.g. trade union mobilizations) determined by different kinds of mobilizing contexts. The comparative aspect of the ESF project will provide our national study with invaluable contrasting case data in regard to diverging mobilizing contexts, which vary as to unions’ differential strength, party-political connectedness and position, action repertoires, and the extent of their constituents’ radicalism and organizational embeddedness. Sweden, as a case, offers a particular contribution because of its dense organisational political structure and strong and politically well-integrated trade unions. The way in which these mobilizing contexts influences composition, rationale and repertoire of Swedish popular protest, can be best understood against the relief of comparative studies in other dissimilar contexts.
Figure 1. The Swedish project within the general project model