Translation from Swedish by Andreas Lindahl
The voices of the unemployed are rarely heard. But in an interview book published by TAM in 1993, unemployed white-collar workers talk about their everyday lives. Today, when unemployment is rising again, it may be interesting to reflect on the experiences of the unemployed at a time when Sweden had gradually abandoned the goal of full employment – the so-called ”work line”.
The book “Jag vill jobba! Arbetslösa tjänstemän berättar” (Eng. eg ”I’m a workaholic! Salaried employees on the dole tell in their own words“; not in translation) was compiled by civil servant Pia Juhlin, who she herself became unemployed in the wake of the crises of the 1990s. In addition to the interview material, the book contains an introductory chapter on ”Människan och arbetet” (Eng. “Man and work”). The chapter focuses solely on unemployment and its ramifications. But ”In order to become unemployed, one must first have held a tenure”, states the beginning of the chapter. Therefore, the publication is also about work and labour market policy.
The book’s description of the enigma of unemployment starts off early on: in Europe of the 16th century. As a result of severe crop failures, demographic changes and an increasing specialization in the craft in the late 1500s, the number of poor in Europe had increased so much that an international movement for social reforms emerged. Special regulations were also issued to control the poor.
Little by little, forced labour was introduced as a means of dealing with the problem. Special ”workhouses” appeared around Europe. The idea was that beggars, vagrants, orphans, the elderly and the weak should be rounded up and be graced with employment. The English Craft Charter of 1563 stated that all citizens had a duty to work. In Sweden, anyone who did not have their own land had to take up work with others. At the time, it was not about the right to meaningful work, but what was emphasized instead was that it was an obligation to take on jobs that were offered. Such a work ethic persisted well into modern times, the book states. It was not until 1982 that the paragraph in the ”Act on Measures in the event of socially dangerous asociality” disappeared, which pointed out that anyone who ”leads such an antisocial life that there is obvious danger…” should be placed in a work institution.
To TAM’s project ”I’m a workaholic! Salaried employees on the dole tell in their own words” had been linked a reference group with representatives of TAM’s member organizations and the Public Employment Service in Stockholm. At the end of the book, the reference group made some statements of principle. Under the heading ”It is perfectly untrue that anyone who wants to can get a job!” the group commented on those whom the group considered to have prejudiced views on the morality and willingness of the unemployed to work. The government at the time wanted to review the terms of unemployment insurance. Government investigators had suggested that lower benefit levels and a shortened benefit period would make the unemployed more motivated to get a job. With a dent, the 1993/1994 Financial Plan also proposed less lenient cutbacks in the system in terms of the level of compensation. TAM’s reference group disagreed on this point. In the book, they write: ”It is the strong opinion of the reference group that the individual’s interest in finding a new job is not affected by poorer levels of remuneration. It stands as an offence to all those who are desperately seeking employment and want a job to be judged in this way.” TAM’s reference group said that people as a rule wish for better things in terms of employment. The interviews also showed that in many cases the unemployed felt ashamed of being unemployed and blamed themselves. Instead of worsening the benefits and bids for all those unemployed, the group proposed five strategies to stem the trend towards chronic joblessness. The reference group’s proposals were also in keeping with the proposals for boosting investments and growth that TCO pointed to in its publication “Rusta för framtiden” (Eng. ”Prepare for the future”, not in translation), namely:
- Bring forward key infrastructure investments.
- Stimulate the growth of SMEs (small and medium enterprises).
- Invest in education and skills development.
- Maintain public activity.
- Help manage the financial sector.
When, in the early 1990s, the interview book was given the green light unemployment had once again risen to become a major problem of sorts. As in the rest of the EU (it was called the EC at the time), unemployment increased during economic downturns, while it rarely fell in the same way when the economy was on the rise again (so-called ”jobless growth”). In TAM-Arkiv’s book, nineteen officials in different professions and from different parts of Sweden talk about what it is like to be unemployed. talks about their thoughts about the future. The people behind the stories reflect their searching for tenures in classifieds, but it’s also about their dreams and plans, friendships and loneliness. The interviewees brought to life in statistics appear here… The different reactions to joblessness are particularly interesting for us to see. Of course, it varies depending on age and general situation of the individual. In some cases, at the beginning of their unemployment, people have become more active in terms of physical exercise etc. and then lose their spark a bit. Others – (most people, that is) – are feeling the economic problems caused by unemployment. Some may also find it difficult to structure their daily routines; others are worried about the future… Mood may vary – go up and down. At the end of her foreword, author Pia Juhlin writes:
”It is my hope that this book ‘Jag vill arbeta!’ (Eng. eg ‘I’m a workaholic!’) can contribute to the debate on unemployment and its consequences and provide a basis for discussions on possible measures to mitigate its effects.
Author: Leif Jacobsson
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