The Socialist 29 May 2013 |
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Riots expose inequality in Sweden
Neoliberalism and police violence have created social time-bomb
Sweden, portrayed as an egalitarian and equal society, has witnessed unprecedented rioting by youth in a predominately immigrant area of Stockholm.
The unrest, which also spread to other parts of the country, erupted after a 69 year old migrant worker was shot dead by police.
These disturbances have taken place against a backdrop of fast-track neoliberal economic policies by the right-wing government leading to widening inequality and growing joblessness, especially among immigrants.
As Arne Johansson of Rattvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI, Sweden) told the Financial Times: "Neoliberalism has been taken to an extreme here" (25 May).
From Offensiv, paper of Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (RS - CWI Sweden)
Husby, a working class suburb of Stockholm, has in recent days been the focus of widespread unrest that has caught even global attention.
We have experienced evenings and nights with a large number of burned out cars, vandalism and stone throwing that was triggered by a brutal intervention of riot-equipped police.
On 22 May, RS initiated a protest, through a local campaign (Järvas Framtid - Network for Järva's Future), at Husby square with 500 people.
The meeting explained the roots of these events - the right-wing policies attacking living standards and services in the area - as well as criticising the police and arguing that vandalism is no way forward.
The riots started on the night of Monday 20 May and have spread to more suburbs around Stockholm. These areas, built in the 1970s and housing mainly low-paid workers with a large proportion of immigrants, have long been under attack from neoliberal policies in all areas - unemployment, cuts in unemployment benefits, housing shortages, school privatisations and constant cuts in local services.
In Husby, the public health centre was closed down and replaced with a smaller private one. Schools and youth centres have been closed, etc.
Young people have been especially affected. 570 young people aged 20-25 years in Husby - almost four in ten - have neither jobs nor studies to go to.
Poverty gap widens
In general, a recent OECD report showed Sweden having the fastest growing gap between rich and poor, falling from being the most "equal" to number 14 (of 34 OECD countries).
The results of Swedish schools have likewise fallen from among the best down to average or below average.
What triggered this week's dramatic events is undoubtedly the police intervention and shooting dead of a 69-year-old man.
This has raised strong criticism and anger among many local inhabitants, especially young people who often have personal experiences of brutality or harassment by the police. 'Something like that would never happen in the rich areas', is a widespread perception in Husby.
A local youth organisation called Megafonen organised a small demonstration demanding an independent investigation of the shooting by the police as well as a public apology to the man's relatives and local residents.
RS took part in the demonstration and supported the demands, adding our demand for democratic control of the police.
When the violence broke out on Sunday evening, the police intervened brutally and with racist abuse against the youth and locals.
Credible witnesses say the violence only gathered momentum after a police dog attacked a mother who came there to get her 14 year old son away from the scene.
Adult locals, including two 'community hosts' were also subjected to baton blows and punched in the face by police.
They were also subjected to a stream of abusing words such as 'monkeys', 'fools', 'blackies', etc.
Establishment media and politicians have been quick to condemn the riots. Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt stressed that the inhabitants of Husby should 'learn the rules in Sweden', implying that immigrants are behind the violence.
The local sub-council leader, a conservative, said Husby residents should only be thankful and called its young people 'thugs'.
The media in general have no links to these areas and cannot understand what is going on. Of course people in Husby were also scared, angry and frustrated over the car fires.
At the same time as explaining the political roots to the riots, socialists need to take a stand.
In the first statement from RS on Monday, we wrote: "Although many can understand vandalism as a kind of protest, this is unfortunately completely misguided, destructive and divisive among the local population.
"Many who have seen their pizzeria vandalised, their cars burned and the 50 people who were forced to evacuate because the garage was on fire are now in danger of just shouting for more police."
We have also explained that it is wrong to simply hope that the spontaneous protests might convey a message that can induce rulers to make concessions.
At the protest in Husby on Wednesday, Arne Johansson, editor of Offensiv and Husby resident, was the main speaker.
He condemned the police brutality and continued: "What is needed is a united struggle against the government and the council.
"We have always had a spirit of solidarity in Husby, a sense of pride for our neighbourhood. We are used to fighting together for what we want".
In fact, Husby, until the last few days, has been relatively spared from cars being set on fire and vandalism. The fact that there have been many local struggles is a reason for that.
Husby's residents have a long tradition of fighting for their interests, with RS playing a leading role.
A council plan for demolition of houses, luxury renovations and 70% rent rises was defeated in a struggle in 2007-08.
The same local network (Järvas Framtid) also fought and won against privatisation of the local swimming facilities and against the plan to adopt a local traffic lay-out that would have made it more dangerous for pedestrians. Other battles, such as against the closure of the health centre, have been lost.
At the street protest, local people were encouraged to speak and everyone was invited to further campaign meetings and protests.
Hammarkullen in Gothenburg, a suburb similar to Husby, has seen increased crime rates which recently culminated in gunfire.
RS organised a rally against violence and for improvements instead of cuts. 250 people came to the square with one day's notice.
"What Hammarkullen and other suburbs need is education, work and housing", said Kristofer Lundberg, RS Gothenburg, at the rally.
The head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has warned that escalating unemployment and poverty in parts of Europe, due to governmental austerity measures, could lead to increased civil unrest.
- 12% of Europe's workforce is unemployed, while 120 million people in the EU - nearly a quarter of the bloc's population - are at risk of poverty and social exclusion.
- In Greece and Spain over 50% of under-25s are out of work. In parts of Greece that figure is 75%; while in Portugal youth unemployment has soared from around 30% two years ago to 43% now.
- The number of people receiving food aid from the IFRC has rocketed from 2.3 million in 2009 to 4.1 million today.