Equality promotes democracy – Monika Arvidsson

Ukraine has been invaded by one of the most unequal countries in Europe. But then equality is one of the strongest pillars of democracy.

The Soviet collapse resulted not in democracy but in oligarchs enriched by privatization and citizens impoverished by hyperinflation (Miriam82/shutterstock.com)

What are the boundaries of democracy: where does it begin and where does it end? Does it start with us taking joint responsibility for children’s life chances, respecting the opinions of others, or caring about high turnout? Does it end with growing up in a more precarious residential area, with hateful comments on ‘social media‘, when corruption allows some to skip the line for health care or when ‘No to War’ Sign Leads to Long Jail?

Dissatisfaction and populism are growing in a context of significant income disparities, which disrupt trust and solidarity between citizens. Inequality can be experienced as relatively low income, poor health care, local transport that works rarely or not at all, or a reliance on expensive fuels that are bad for the environment. For those who are late, the effects are measured in poor health, shorter life expectancy, low standard of living and precarious work situation, therefore frustration, even despair.

Keeping societies together is therefore not only a good idea, it is the basis for avoiding chaos. The main task of the state is to strengthen citizens’ confidence in the common good. This is done by political representatives keeping their promises and building systems with the public interest in mind.

Individuals whose basic needs are met, who have secure incomes and who feel heard are inclined to contribute to the construction of society, through the willingness to pay taxes and to participate in elections – and to remain friendly to one another. towards others, nationally and towards those abroad. Working for equal and good living conditions and fighting divisions in society is not about preventing anyone from being richer than anyone else, but about decency, democracy and guarantee of peaceful societies.


Restricted rights

In its latest analysis of democracy around the world, the V-dem Institute in Gothenburg claims that we have reversed 30 years of development when we compare the number of people living in different types of societies. Some have seen their rights improved, but many live in countries where rights have been curtailed and where the rule of law and human rights are currently under threat.

Overall, autocracy has gained more ground than democratic structures, and authoritarian rulers have become increasingly bold V-dem states. Aside from their obvious democratic deficit, totalitarian regimes are characterized by little caution and caution when it comes to climate or equality.

Democracy is the first thing we must ensure if we are to achieve sustainable economic growth, general prosperity and successful climate action. The union is a democratic movement that reaches out to workers. We have a valuable platform for discussions on, for example, the working environment and co-management, which helps employees exercise their democratic rights in the workplace and in society at large.

Democracy and equality are linked. The greater the trade union organization in a society, the more equitable the distribution of income. In other words, promoting independent trade union organization and activity is a means of strengthening democracy.

The Swedish trade union confederation LO demands the democratic right of everyone to demand good working conditions, to develop skills, to be involved and able to influence the workplace, and to express criticism about a working environment harm without fear of reprisal. No one should be discriminated against, because of their ethnicity or the person they love. There is an urgent need to transform businesses and jobs towards climate sustainability, and at the same time ensure that everyone has access to upskilling or retraining to keep up with this change. Moreover, LO is a feminist organization.


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provocative thoughts

These reflections may not cause the Social Europe reader to fall out of his chair. But in some parts of the world, these are provocative thoughts. In the recurrent survey of world values, Sweden is generally placed in an extreme position on the map of cultural values. According to these parameters, the Anglo-Saxon countries and mainly Western Europe are the closest to us. Others are more distant, with differences on secularism, family policy, trust and tolerance.

These measures are indeed only rough guidelines and there are wide variations and levels of complexity within countries. A glance at the national parliaments is enough to note everywhere a great diversity of opinions, despite an ostensibly common belonging to a “national culture”.

Perhaps it would be more reasonable to have another starting point than geography for comparing values ​​on a spectrum and who adheres to it. After all, democracies have an interest in collaborating with other democracies. International exchange is about economic growth and employment opportunities, but it is also about pursuing standards and development consistent with the values ​​we believe in. If we want gender equality, equal societies, a sustainable economy and democratic development, more people around the world need to agree that this is where we are headed.

Condemnation and resistance

The war against Ukraine challenges not only the security order but also democracy. That is why the unity that most of the countries of the world have shown against Russia’s attack on an independent nation and its violations of international law is extremely important. Silence and apathy work to the benefit of dictators, while outspoken condemnation and resistance, on the scale we see now, strengthens and unites those who want freedom.

The consequences of the pandemic for the economy and the labor market, as well as the negative effects of globalization, lead to large differences in income and influence. This culminates in attacks on democracy, leading to increased political and economic polarization.

Decades of experience show that we cannot rely on “market forces” to ensure a fair distribution of resources. Considerable efforts are needed and democratic political institutions must now draw a clear red line where democracy stops.

As a typically secularized Swede, I would say that democracy is not granted by any god – we have to constantly claim it. It is by defending human rights and equal opportunities in life that we best protect democracy.

Monika Arvidsson is a researcher at the Swedish Trade Union Confederation, LO, and works mainly on international economics, the labor market and globalisation.

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