Solidarity Forever? Swedish Wage Levels as an Index of Working Class Marginalisation in Post-Golden Age Scandinavia

Paper presented at the conference on Wages and Global Development since the 1950s/1960s, University of Artois (Arras, France), 9-10 April 2015, organized by Professor Michel-Pierre Chélini. Please read the revised version here.


In Sweden, over the 1960s, -70s and part of the -80s, pay equalization took place across industries, forms of employment and the gender gap. Subsequently, both the gender- and the industry-based differential among wage earners remained within the limited range now arrived at. Contrary to these fixations, wages began to diverge downwards relative to salaries after c. 1990. All the while, the quantitative balance between blue-collar workers and salaried employees shifted too, in favour of the latter group. This process was gradual and went in the same direction throughout the entire period. Enhanced human capital is a valid partial explanation for both changes, yet the increasingly globalized economic regime plays some role in the relative decline of wages. Blue-collar workers are more liable to lose their jobs because of outsourcing, relocation or new trade patterns. They have fewer attractive alternatives in the predominantly white-collar and gender biased (towards women) labour market of the public sector. For the collective of unionized workers, traditional solidarity is still the best available response to these challenges. For the individual, though, opting out of the blue-collar group is probably the better alternative. Even the better-situated portions of the working class seem caught in a process of socio-economic marginalisation.