Danish general elections – what's at stake?

On January 18, the Danish Prime Minister of the right-wing government, Anders Fogh, announced that parliamentary elections will be held on February 8. Although the established press is very confident that Fogh and his right-wing government will be re-elected, it is not at all ruled out that the Social Democrats may win by a small margin as a result of their demands for measures against unemployment. But if the problems of the Danish working class are to be solved, it is not enough simply to kick the right-wing government out of office.

On January 18 at 1 PM, the Danish Prime Minister of the right-wing government, Anders Fogh, announced that parliamentary elections will be held on February 8. According to the Danish constitution the Prime Minister has the right to call an election when he wants, the only requirement being that it is held within four years after his inauguration.

It was not at all a surprise that elections were announced. The media have not been talking about anything but elections for the last few weeks. In fact many people thought that the Prime Minister would call them in the first week of January. But at that time the minister dedicated all of his New Year’s speech to the tragedy in Asia, and when he was asked by journalists about elections, he told them that such questions were absurd in the light of this horrible event in Asia. However, it doesn’t seem like he was too affected by the scope of the tsunami disaster, because as soon as the attention shifted away from the horrors in Asia, he called the elections.

The government stands strong in the polls

In all the opinion polls, the Prime Minister stands very strong. The government seems likely to win again, some polls even predicting that they will win with an even bigger majority than they did in 2001, where the Social Democratic Party lost in a most humiliating fashion. The 2001 elections were a historic defeat for the Social Democrats who had the worst election results since the 1920’s.

The Social Democratic Party is the traditional party of the Danish working class, but since the 2001 elections the party has been in a state of crisis. After the last elections they tried to find out what went wrong. Why didn’t they win the majority? They tried everything: a change of front figures, a change of logo – and even a change of name (from “The Social Democracy” to “The Social Democrats”, as they think this change of name will symbolize the people rather than the system [sic!])!

What they didn’t bother to do was analyse the real reasons they lost the elections. Their main slogan in 2001 was that “it has never been better”. But the truth is that ordinary working people in Denmark do not feel this in their everyday life. On the contrary, working people were faced with cutbacks in the local communities to schools, hospitals, and welfare in general, and the Social Democratic government interfered in the big private-sector strike in 1998.

The chairman of the party, Mogens Lykketoft, is remembered by working people as the Minister of Finance in the previous Social Democratic government. From this position he carried through the hated cuts in pension benefits. This was very controversial as they had promised the exact opposite, and thus gained the majority in their electoral campaign of 1998. Thousands of Danish voters ask themselves: Why should we put our faith in a guy who has already showed that he is false to the core?

The lack of any genuine alternative

The main problem is that a genuine alternative for working people is lacking. The Social Democrats have been a very weak party in opposition, and their credibility is very low, as working people are disgusted by the double standards of Lykketoft. The last budget passed in parliament, which once again contained massive cutbacks, was accepted by the Social Democracy. The response of the party to most of the problems and scandals in Danish society has been a deafening silence.

Attack on workers’ rights

The Social Democrats have been silent not because there has not been anything to criticize! The policies of the right-wing government have been one long attack against the rights of the working class, against the welfare state, and against the youth. Lots of money has been spent on support for the war in Iraq, while social expenditure has been cut and trade union rights have been attacked. While on the surface things may seem calm and quiet, one must be aware of the fact that deep contradictions and a general mood of anger and discontent are accumulating in Danish society.

A recent analysis by Steen Scheuer, a professor at the University of Roskilde concluded that the idea of a peaceful labour market in Denmark is nothing but a myth. In the 1990’s Denmark was the country in Europe losing the second most working days per capita as a result of strikes, only exceeded by Spain. And in 2000-2003 Denmark was ranked 6th on the strike-chart list.

A particular problem facing Danish workers is the threat of outsourcing, which will lead to even bigger unemployment in Denmark. This is a threat that makes workers nervous about their future – what will the next day bring them if they have been kicked out of their job? Will they be able to pay their rent, and make a living in general?

In December 2004 we saw how the employers at Tulip, a slaughterhouse in Ringsted, attacked the workers and their working conditions and demanded that they lower their wages (see Danish slaughterhouse workers on strike). Slaughterhouse workers all over the country responded by massive strikes, but in the end the employers at Tulip withdrew their proposal of wage cuts. Instead they simply declared that the factory would be closed in May 2006 and moved to a place where the level of wages is lower.

This is a good example of the correctness of Lenin’s classic book Imperialism – The Highest Stage of Capitalism, in which he emphasizes the bourgeoisie’s tendency to base itself on speculation and unproductive business. The Danish state itself has spent 10 billion DKK (1.3 billion Euros), on supporting the outsourcing of Danish firms to Eastern Europe!

The incident at Tulip in Ringsted is not at all a unique example, but a reflection of a general trend in Denmark and in the whole of Europe. That is why this will be an important issue in the elections.

New proposals from the Social Democrats

On Sunday the Social Democrats launched a new job plan, which deals with a wide range of problems in Danish society. Although the plan contains some good slogans and proposals, which, it is not ruled out may win a lot of votes to the party, it is also very much permeated with a false optimism.

Here is one such example: the Social Democrats propose to inject more money into the field of education, in order to develop a quality workforce. This is supposed to be the bulwark against the threat of outsourcing. But this is not at all a solution. The threat of outsourcing is a tool that the bosses use all over Europe in order to lower wages. It is linked to the need for more profits in a time when European capitalism is on its way to a deep crisis. The only solution is the nationalization of the firms. If the bosses want to move out, that’s fine, but the workplaces should be kept on Danish soil under the ownership of the state and the democratic management of the workers, the trade unions and the state.

The job plan of the Social Democrats also promises to create 50,000 new jobs in four years. The leaders of the party say that this is realistic, because they were able to create the same amount of jobs from 1993-1998. The method the party will adopt in order to achieve this is pure Keynesianism: State investment in building-projects, services, and so on. Although the demand for jobs for all workers is very good, it is important to note that the 1990s were a period of general upswing, and that is why it was possible to create a large amount of new jobs. Now, with a stagnating economy, it seems very unlikely that they will be able to create a similar amount of jobs.

Importance of the youth

Another important question is that of education. The Danish school students have a very militant tradition of struggle, and in the last couple of years they have been at the forefront of the struggle against cutbacks. The right-wing government has made several reforms intended to create an education system for the elite. Student grants have been cut, and access to university will be more limited. This autumn enormous mobilizations of students, pupils and apprentices resulted in big demonstrations of tens of thousands in the streets of the largest cities in the country.

The mood amongst the youth is electric, and opinion polls say that people between 18-25 years of age will vote left. The struggle against the right-wing government in this election must be firmly linked to the struggle of the youth, not just of school students, but also of the apprentices and young workers who at the moment of writing are faced with huge problems, as many are unable to find the placement which is needed to finish their education.

A workers government on a socialist programme

Although the established press is very confident that Fogh and his right-wing government will be re-elected, it is not at all ruled out that the Social Democrats may win by a small margin as a result of their demands for measures against unemployment, and so on. But if the problems of the Danish working class are to be solved, it is not enough simply to kick the right-wing government out of office.

Unemployment, outsourcing, privatization and cuts to welfare are all features of a capitalist system which has plunged into crisis.

The only way forward is to adopt a socialist programme, which will stop the bosses’ offensive, reverse all the cuts in the public sector, inject massive amounts into the building of flats, new schools and day-care centers, and bring about the withdrawal of all Danish troops in Iraq and so on. But this can only be done by a workers’ government composed of the Social Democratic party, in alliance with the two other workers’ parties, the Socialist Peoples’ Party and the Unity-List. And massive reforms can only be adopted if the parties undertake socialist measures which will strangle the economic power of the bourgeoisie.

We have no illusions in Lykketoft and the right-wing leaders who have infiltrated the top of the labour movement. Ordinary workers, trade unionists and militant youth must join the three workers’ parties in order to reclaim them as a tool to fight the bosses’ offensive. Only in that way is it possible to fight for a workers’ government which will genuinely improve the living conditions of the Danish working class and youth.