First of all, I want to say thank you for the award. Thanks!
I thank you both for my own decoration and for the award as such.
The award is not only a joy for me and other chosen. It is also an encouragement to the collectives of politically active people who surround us.
Last week I rode in cortege through Stockholm. It had nothing to do with the Lenin Award. I followed striking taxi drivers who drove their cars in caravan from Bromma to the corporate offices, the county hall and Rosenbad.
It didn’t go fast. Only after three hours we were in the city.
The class struggle takes its time, and the progress is not as straightforward as it seemed to be 40 years ago.
In early spring of 1970, a friend and I took the night train from Stockholm to Malmberget. We were doing a special assignment in school about the LKAB strike. 4 500 workers had sat down in protest, but now the mine was moving again after 58 days in stillness.
An elderly miner told us about the conditions for the miners:
– It’s just material in the foreground. No matter how much life it costs, the employer never thinks of the human being.
In the evening we were at a study meeting with Gällivare Malmberget’s FNL group. It was at the home of Harry Isaksson, one of the strike leaders. On the agenda was Lenin’s five articles about imperialism.
We read Lenin in the Vietnam movement. He helped us understand what was going on in Southeast Asia and how the war was linked to the development here at home.
We probably didn’t always read with enough reflection. We overlooked how Lenin surrounded his definition of imperialism with reservations, how he pointed out that it was “a phenomenon in full growth”, a capitalism of continued change.
It was easy to get stuck in the scheme of history that was called Marxism in the lecterns of the East and West.
But we also read Mao and Myrdal. Then the straight line was suddenly not as compelling. The future was open. The class struggle would decide.
We saw it as a promise. We did not think so carefully about that the outcome could be a defeat.
My mother, the artist Birgit Ståhl-Nyberg, made an oil painting where three men in the career stormed over the canvas. Happy Boys, she called it. It was 1974, just four years after the LKAB strike. I thought it gave an unnecessarily bleak picture of social development.
But in 1992, when we opened a memorial exhibition with her work at Kulturhuset in Stockholm, someone looked at the painting and exclaimed:
– But look, there is Carl Bildt!
Mom had not painted Carl Bildt. She painted types. In 1974, Bildt was a fairly unknown young politician, but 18 years later, Sweden had furnished itself with a prime minister of the very kind my mother had seen storming ahead.
We live today in a historical setback. The capital-owning class, the happy boys, are winning themselves down into economic depression, social disintegration and new colonial wars. Capital accumulates in abundance at one end, misguided anger in the other.
After the recent bloodshed down on the continent, I received an email from a friend in Brussels. He lives in Molenbeek, he is from Morocco and he is a cleaner in one of the EU palaces.
They had just finished the morning’s shift when one of the bombs burst. He was 100 meters from the attacked subway station, and several of his colleagues were waiting for their trains.
They made it, but he is “very sad and very angry”, he writes. They are double victims. They run the risk of being killed like everyone else, and wherever they go in town, everyone else looks at them as if they were terrorists.
The latest news will not make things better. One of the suicide bombers at the airport worked as a cleaner at the EU Parliament two summers a few years ago.
I met some of the cleaners in Brussels last fall: two from Morocco, one from Tunisia and one from Sicily.
They are not employed by the EU agencies, but procured at the lowest price. For each new procurement, the working conditions are getting worse. In the past, a cleaner was stipulated to clean two floors with 65 rooms in three hours. Now it is three floors with 140 rooms.
– We become like machines, the cleaners explained. We are to produce more and more and more. But this machine is not like other machines. It cannot be repaired when it breaks. When you can’t do the job anymore, they kick you out.
To the workload comes a burden of a different kind: the contempt and the mistrust they must endure daily.
They work two shifts a day: three hours early in the morning, a few more hours in the evening. They have demanded cleaning at office hours, but EU politicians and officials do not want to know about them. They need the labor, but the people who provide it must be invisible.
A cleaning lady told me what can happen when she takes the elevator down after a finished shift: The elevator stops at one floor. The doors open and there are a couple of EU parliamentarians. Then she has to step out and let them take the elevator.
In the past, the cleaners, like all other officials in the EU buildings, parked their cars in the garage. They are no longer allowed to do that.
It is blamed on security. In the era of the new colonial wars, every North African cleaner is a potential enemy.
Here’s what the threat looks like:
“In war, foreigners make it here violently and openly; in peace, their arrival is less dramatic and their presence less intrusive, but the effects can be as far-reaching.”
The words could come from the National Front or Pegida, but the author is one of the EU’s foremost foreign policy strategists. His name is Robert Cooper.
There is no general xenophobia or whiteness standard that rules. Brussels is full of migrants, but they are of two kinds. Some belong to the traveling EU circus, others clean, cook and build the houses. The contempt, mistrust, and exception rules only affect one group.
Kamal, one of the cleaners, told me about his name tag. The front is blue and comes with the cleaning company logo. It signals that he belongs to the service people. But the back is white. It cannot be distinguished from the officials’ name tags.
– If I have the blue side out, they look down on me, he says. But if I turn the tag, no one takes notice of me. Then I am one of them. It is a form of racism that exceeds the skin color, a racism fixated with the profession.
The hostility that the cleaners of the EU palaces in Brussels are faced with is saturated with class hatred and imperialist ideology. It is functional, profitable, productive. It promotes the over-exploitation of the lower stratum of the working class and the military operations in the periphery of capitalism.
I asked the cleaners if they tried to come together and resist. It can’t be done, they answered. The one who demands his right is kicked out. The client of the cleaning services can at any time point out a cleaner and say:
– I don’t want to see you here anymore. Give me the tag.
Similarly, it is for taxi drivers in Stockholm. A few large taxi companies own the order centers and the brands. They can whenever they want to call in a driver to the office, cut his card and deprive him of his livelihood.
Nevertheless, the drivers are still striking, yet they go in caravan through Stockholm. It is not about individual courage, it is about the possibilities of the collective. Each one has nothing to set against, each one may continue to run eleven, twelve hours a day six days a week.
But together in cortege through Stockholm, it is another matter.
We will get nowhere without the collectives that surround us. This applies to both cleaners, taxi drivers and Lenin Award laureates.