The cheap Malmö is quite a well-known phenomenon. A city where it is both cheap to reside and live, where you can get a falafel for thirty crowns and cut your hair for a fifty crowns bill. And it is quite romanticized in some circles, the life around Möllan has been called “Little Berlin” by some. But this reality is based on a shadow society and a black economy, which is the very premise for that cheap falafel and that cheap haircut. And it is based on low wages and bad, or even miserable, terms of employment for those who do these jobs.
Some politicians have wanted to stretch it as far as that those who consume these services even contribute to the growing gang criminality. I myself do not really want to stretch it that far, but I have in any case gained a lot of insights into Malmö’s black economy. Especially during the work on the play Blue Dreams that I wrote the script for. It was a theater play set in a car that drove around in the Malmö night, where two actors sat in the front seat and the audience in the back seat. And it was a story about a restaurant manager who is looking for his paperless dishwasher who has disappeared and it becomes more and more dramatic the longer the time goes.
As part of the research for this play, we in the team talked to people who had experience of both the white and the black part of the restaurant industry. Among others we talked with Daria Bogdanska, who has a rather special history and quite an in-depth knowledge of Malmö’s black restaurant world. Daria came to Sweden in 2013 to start studying at the Comic Art School that is located in Malmö. To be able to support herself, she started working as a waitress at several of these Indian restaurants around Möllan, which are known for their cheap beer and cheap food.
Quite quickly she discovered that the wages were low and the conditions poor, but there were also very unequal conditions. Swedish employees received one salary and she as a Pole received one salary and the very lowest salary went to the employees from Bangladesh who were countrymen to the boss and owner of the place. So, Daria soon decided to try to do what workers of all times have done to correct injustices in their workplaces: to join forces with their colleagues and organize. The problem is, of course, that the unions we have in Sweden today, especially within the LO collective, find it hard to handle the situation with paperless and black economy employees and it was only when they talked to the syndicalists of SAC that things started to happen.
Daria also began to document all the fraud that the manager at these restaurants was doing and also came in contact with a journalist who was doing a story about Malmö’s black economy workforce. Then a lot of other things happened, some of those Daria tried to organize with, dared not go all the way for fear of threats and reprisals from the boss and his friends. Daria ended up in a meeting with this manager and won her conflict and got all the salary he had withheld. She was not content only with winning this labor conflict, but she also decided to tell about all her experiences, also to inspire others to fight and win.
The result was this book that Lasse showed us before, Wage Slaves, which is a graphic novel that is not just about work and struggle at the workplace. It is also an autobiographical account of being a newcomer in Sweden and not being able to speak much Swedish at the beginning and friendship and love. It is also a depiction of the punk scene around Norra Grängesbergsgatan in Malmö. It is an extremely well-told and inspirational book that, in my view, holds a high international standard and the book has also been translated into a number of languages: French, Spanish, English and soon also German. I also know that Daria has several graphic novels in progress. Among other things, she is working on an autobiographical story about the increasingly segregated housing market. And then she has a project later on that I personally look forward very much to: A biographical depiction of her grandmother’s life. A woman who has experienced much of Poland’s very dramatic 20th century.
But Daria has also continued to commit to the union work and recently she was involved in helping to organize a group of Eastern European migrant workers working in the salad industry in Skåne. They took the fight with the staffing company that had paid them very low wages and won. A victory like this is proof that we who want a more equal world must never give up but continue to fight and we will also win from time to time. So, congratulations to the 2019 Robespierre Prize laureate Daria Bogdanska.