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Employee Funds

Swedish politics from the 1970s and 1980s.

So basically when people buy, sell, or hold stock, that doesn’t really enrich the company. You don’t “support” Volvo by buying Volvo stock from another stock owner. (That’s something that I as leftist have only recently learned during the last few months.)

The only time the company profits from people buying stock is when there is equity issuance. On example of that was AMC recently converting IOUs to stock.

The original Löntagarfond (employee fund, is the official English translation) proposal from the LO union economists (in 1975, after working on the idea from 1971) was that there were gonna be issuance of equity BUT they were gonna be forced to give that away. To workers.

Which, to my lefto eyes sounds awesome—the workers created that surplus value anyway! And, that was LO’s reasoning for the proposal. In Sweden in the 70s, unions were set up so that each individual would not ask for raises beyond what other people were getting—even people at other companies! The workforce as a whole was in solidarity with each other. Which leads to the tiny li’l bug that successful workers who made a particular company successful were only enriching their bosses, not themselves. A problem the Löntagarfond would fix—the workers would gradually, slowly, overtime, frog-boilingly, finally own & control the means of production!

The Right’s Take

The idea was of course really unpopular with the right. Forcing to piece by piece give away control over your own business? Remember, the right believes in the idea of “your own business”—they dorked out when Obama said:

Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.

In the eyes of the right, they did build their business.

And in the eyes of the right, the backbreaking labor of their employees did not build that business at all. Classic capitalism has an, uh, a kinda skewed view of what rewards are commensurate.

So let me try to translate the idea of Löntagarfond so it sounds acceptable to the randian mind. In Rand style politics, contracts are holy. The night-watchman state’s main purpose is to uphold contracts with murderous force. Even in such a state, unions are allowed to say “OK, the deal is that if you want to hire any workers, we want a Löntagarfond plan set up. We want a Löntagarfond plan as part of our contracts.” Now, the armchair philosopher style of Rand reader, the New Hampshire hippie if you will, they’ll see no problem with that.

Core of Right Wing

Side trek here on what the right wing really is. Conservatism and Laissez-Faire are two completely different philosophies. Orthogonal at best and incompatible at worst. This incongruity makes a fantastic toolkit for the ideology of the rich.

The rich will in any given moment, for any given decision, cherry pick from one of the two to find support for what they really want, which is for the rich to get richer while the poor stay poor. (The reason they don’t wanna lift all boats is because if there is no abyss of poverty, then negotiating brutal employee contracts will be slightly more inconvenient for them.)

I’m not talking about the thousands of think-tankers and pundits here. Most of them are pretty set in one of those two philosophies (count all the “culture war”, “anti-SJW” stuff in under “conservatism”), apply it consistently, and only reach for the other to fill gaps where their philosophy is neutral.

I’m talking about people like the Koch bros. For them, this dual nature of the right-wing politics is vital.

Additionally, when their actual policies derived from one of the two philosophies are impopular, or too transparently about widening the wealth gap—they can just grab some wedge issues from the opposite philosophy. “Vote for our tax cuts and we will protect you against The Others!” Feudalism basically.

So that’s why even if Löntagarfonds can be phrased to fit into the Laissez-Faire, Night-Watchman policy, it’s a threat to the core ideology of enriching the rich—all their other ideologies are derived from that, and are disposable tools in service of that core desire.

What Happened to Löntagarfond

Even the Social Democrat leadership were, internally, opposed to the idea but put it forward anyway since they felt obliged to represent LO’s ideas.

The right, obviously, went all out. They mobilized the first and biggest right-wing demonstration in Sweden’s history (on October 4th, 1983). They rustle up small businesses, family businesses—it was one of the biggest death knells of economic democracy here, arguably bigger than the fall of the wall.

A nerfed system was put into place (just after the demos, December 83) and was removed from the books in 1991.

The nerf, which was formulated between 1981 and 1983, was that the cap was 5×8% (so 40%) of the stocks of a given corporation and that the funds were obligated to provide the corporations with capital. With this nerf they became utterly useless.