Constructing Disciplined Workers - Managing Identity Formation in the Early Swedish Trade Unions
2009 (English)Conference paper (Other academic)
Class identity and mobilization constitute important factors for the understanding of the development and sustainability of the welfare state; therefore these issues are thoroughly studied within the social sciences. However, prior research has primarily assigned technical developments in the industry to be the driving force of class mobilization. I claim that to fully understand class formation and trade unionism, the variable identity must be considered since organizational identity is crucial for organizations in general and, I claim, for trade unions in particular because of their nature as voluntary organizations being vulnerable to membership losses. Marx stated that a class in itself does not necessarily lead to class for itself; the trade union leaders need to construct the cohesive glue of identity. This paper aims at examining the role of trade union leaders in the construction of a strong cohesive identity in the Swedish Trade Union Confederation for blue collar workers, the LO, in the 1920s and 1930s. Based on a study of historical documents I argue that the LO constructed a strong reformist and consensus focused identity with its roots in social democracy. Through image management they managed to implement this image on the grass root level in Sweden in the 1930s using the newly established educational system. The Swedish case is particularly interesting because Swedish trade unionism is characterized by highly organized and disciplined workers; if organizational identity in trade unions is a result of deliberate identity politics from trade union leaders we would find support for that in this particular case. Most research on trade unions in Sweden has dealt with the elites of the organizations and their road towards consensus and cooperation with the employers assuming discipline and class formation, thus the process of identity construction within the trade unions is yet to be examined. By filling this gap we can improve our understanding of how the working class of Sweden could be formatted into a strong cohesive actor in the 1930s and how the spirit of consensus became a characteristic and important feature of the Swedish labour market.
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IdentifiersURN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-140210OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-140210DiVA: diva2:383241
ECPR General Conference in Potsdam, September 10-12 2009