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Why are strikes so rare in Sweden?

Around 1,000 port workers were involved in industrial action this week, when a dockworkers' union organized a strike and employers responded with a lockout. But in general, workers in Sweden strike much less than in almost every other country in the world.

Why are strikes so rare in Sweden?
Dockworkers on strike in Malmö earlier this week. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

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“Sweden has many fewer working days lost due to strikes, lockouts and labour disputes than other Nordic countries, even though we have by far the biggest labour market,” says Per Ewaldsson from the National Mediation Institute, which mediates in labour disputes when they occur.

“Looking further afield, at international statistics, it seems that generally Sweden is among the countries which loses the fewest working days,” Ewaldsson tells The Local.

The Mediation Institute's own statistics show that on average 21,000 working days have been lost per year due to industrial action over the past decade, with a major strike by a healthcare workers' union, among others, in 2008 contributing to 106,801 lost workdays that year alone. The figure for 2017 was only 2,570 lost days. The figure for the past decade is significantly less than the 84,000 days a year not worked in Finland over the past decade, which rose to 128,000 in Norway and was almost 300,000 in Denmark.

In Sweden, only 0.6 days per 1000 workers were not worked in 2017 due to industrial action, according to statistics from the International Labour Organization, which compared to 8.9 in Norway and 45.2 in Spain. And there were six strikes or lockouts in Sweden in 2017, the ILO data shows, compared to 79 in the UK and 426 in Denmark.

If a trade union, employers' organization or individual employer is considering industrial action, they are required to inform not only their counterpart but also the Mediation Institute. This is in contrast to countries like France and Italy, where strikes tend to precede negotiations or occur alongside them, rather than be called as a last resort.

Ewaldsson does not have exact figures for how many of these mediations are unable to resolve the conflict, but according to him “in most cases” a solution is reached before any industrial action takes place.

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A miners' strike in Kiruna in 1969. Photo: Pressens bild/TT

Sweden has a long history of strikes, with the first major one occurring at the Sala silver mine in 1552 when miners refused to work – though these workers were accused of mutiny and imprisoned by the king at the time. Throughout the 20th century, there were multiple strikes including those organized by unions (the Swedish Trade Union Confederation or LO was founded in 1898) and others organized by employees alone.

One milestone came in the form of the 1997 Industrial Agreement (Industriavtalet) between unions and employers' organizations, which was replaced by a new version in 2011. These agreements regulate collective agreements (kollektivavtal); the agreements between employers and unions on issues such as pay levels, working conditions and benefits. 

One of the main effects this has is to regulate wage increases, to ensure that employees continue to get real wage increases but also that Sweden can be competitive in a globalized economy, because wage increases in other sectors won't push up pay so much that companies are forced to cut jobs or even relocate abroad. And the fact is that wages have increased steadily in real terms since the turn of the century, meaning employees may be more likely to be satisfied with their working conditions so that strikes aren't necessary.

“If you look at labour disputes historically, they were much more common in earlier decades than they are now. Back then, it was a very different country with many more social tensions and where income levels were much lower, also in relation to other countries – it was a much poorer country,” explains Ewaldsson.

“One part of the explanation is that the labour market model functions relatively well, not least in the way competitiveness is secured in collective agreements at the same time as real wage increases are secured. There's a basic consensus that this is good for a small exporting country like Sweden. A guideline for our mediators is that they should not propose solutions to conflicts which would exceed the wage increases agreed in industry. That's really the top priority.”

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A rail strike in France brought trains to a standstill last year. Photo: AP Photo/Michel Spingler

The biggest exceptions to the rule are independent trade unions; those which are not part of the LO. This includes the Dockworkers' Union which called this week's strike, as well as the alternative left-wing Central Organization of the Workers of Sweden (Syndikalisterna or SAC).

Other unions, particularly the builders' union and the municipal workers' union, have also held strikes and threatened industrial action on several occasions.

There have also been so-called wildcat strikes, organized by workers without the authorization of their union. One recent example is the Stockholm waste collectors' strike in summer 2017, when dozens of workers walked out over a pay dispute. But that was later ruled as unlawful by Sweden's Labour Court, because it took place during the term of a collective agreement.

This highlights another reason strikes are comparatively rare in Sweden: the strength of the unions. Unions represent around three quarters of workers in Sweden, and strong unions are likely to be able to negotiate reasonable terms with employers' organizations. Again, this stands in contrast to France, which has Europe's highest number of trade unions but the lowest rate of union membership, creating competition between them which may encourage strikes to win the support of frustrated workers.

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While it might be tempting to draw a link between the stereotypes associated with a country and its attitudes to strike: the hot-heated French versus the 'lagom', conflict-averse Swedes, the frequency of strikes comes down to a combination of factors relating to how the labour market is set up, and how the economy of each country works.

This in turn affects how strikes are viewed by fellow workers. In southern Europe, there is often a higher level of sympathy for striking workers seen as standing up for their rights, especially in countries which were hard hit by the recession.

In Sweden, many workers accept that their rights are already protected by kollektivavtal and the strong union movement, and some argue that strikes can be damaging to Sweden's export-reliant economy. This is particularly evident in a dockworkers' strike last year, which risked impacting the movement of goods in and out of the country and even led to the Liberal Party proposing that the right to strike be restricted.

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For members


How to switch to a career in Sweden’s booming gaming industry

Sweden's gaming industry is crying out for top international talent, but the skills shortage also creates opportunities for professionals in other fields to switch to a career in gaming. Senior experts share their best tips with The Local.

How to switch to a career in Sweden's booming gaming industry

Home to world-famous gaming studios like Mojang, King and DICE – the creators of Minecraft, Candy Crush and Battlefield, respectively – Swedish games have been downloaded nearly seven billion times. Every fourth person on the planet has played a game made in Sweden.

And the number of new gaming companies and employees is only increasing, despite concerns about the impact of the pandemic, according to a new report from Sweden’s gaming industry association

In 2022, Swedish gaming studios increased turnover by 18 percent to 32.6 billion kronor, setting a new record. Combined, the turnover of the 23 listed computer game companies amounted to 61 billion kronor – a threefold increase since 2020 and almost twice as much as in 2021.

However, the talent shortage is an ongoing struggle, and the industry relies heavily on foreigners to plug the gaps.

“There’s a massive skills shortage, especially on the technical side, due to the sheer amount of coding required. I think the industry wants to do more to keep growing the Swedish game phenomena, but the talent shortage hinders us,” says Ludvig Moberg Edenbäck, people experience partner at Mojang Studios.

But if you’re a gaming newbie, how do you make the switch?

Bringing a fresh perspective could be your ultimate ability

Magdalena Björkman, a senior producer at Arrowhead Games, has a background in linguistics and started her career in the manufacturing industry back home in Poland.

“The gaming industry needs people from different backgrounds more than ever. We really need to encourage people who bring different perspectives to the table to come in,” she says.

After studying Japanese, Björkman worked as a translator and coordinator, acting as a conduit between Polish and Japanese engineers. One day she stumbled across a job ad for a Polish games developer looking for an assistant producer who could handle localisation, and eventually started looking for opportunities outside of Poland, landing a role at King in Sweden.

“Swedish and Polish work culture is totally different. I had to get used to not having to be the loudest person in the room to get my opinion across, which I actually really like. It was really, really nice working for King. It was a lot more collaborative. In general, Sweden felt a lot more progressive than Poland.”

Björkman knows other linguists who switched to gaming too and says being able to interpret and translate what people are saying to others is a crucial skill, especially as a producer.

“Whatever you do, you always end up working with people, communication and translation. I’ve always been trying to connect people, and as a games producer, being able to translate different perspectives to help collaboration. Gaming is also a multinational crowd. So if you come from linguistics and you know how to work with different people and cultures, it’s a good fit.”

You don’t need to know how to build games – but you need to be passionate about them

Luis Cascante, currently chief of staff at Rovio and head of the board of education for Futuregames, stresses that this is an industry that values passion. “If you don’t care about games at all, don’t bother,” he says. Gaming isn’t just a business, it’s a creative art form, and you’re unlikely to get hired if the interest and passion aren’t there.

“I’ve worked with studio founders who basically tell everyone they expect passion, whatever their role is, and if they don’t have it, there’s no place for them in their studio,” says Cascante.

Around half of Mojang’s staff have a technical background, and 30 percent are foreigners. Photo: Melker Dahlstrand/

Mojang’s Moberg Edenbäck, who is an avid gamer, agrees that demonstrating an interest in gaming helps, although it’s not a strict requirement for all roles.

“At Mojang, we’re in a unique spot because we’ve been around for 15 years and a lot of people that reach out to us have grown up with Minecraft. Sometimes Minecraft is even the reason they started coding, and working here is basically their dream job,” he says.

“But if that’s not the case, one thing people can do to demonstrate interest is to have hobby projects. A lot of people create games in their spare time, or designers and artists create characters just for fun. If you do that, it’s definitely a positive.”

Identify your transferable skills to help you level up

Like any other industry, there are plenty of transferable skills that make your application more desirable. Coders have a slight advantage, as games are built using programming languages (specifically C++ and Java), putting experienced coders in high demand.

“If you’re a C++ developer and you have some experience, even if it’s not with games, you will always be on the map. There is absolutely no shortage of roles that you can apply for,” says Luis Cascante.

Many blockbuster games are built using C++, and experience with 3D creation tools like Unreal Engine and Unity provides the easiest entry points if you come from a technical background.

Cascante says data analysis is another sought-after skill: “It’s not necessarily part of hands-on game creation, but data analysts are definitely in demand. At Rovio, none of our data analysts are from Europe, because we simply can’t find them.”

“If you’re good at maths, statistics and SQL, studios are more likely to pick you up, even if you’re slightly more junior because there’s such a demand right now,” he adds.

DICE, headquartered in Stockholm, is one of the major players in the gaming industry. Photo: Melker Dahlstrand/

But it’s not all about coders.

“Producers, artists, designers, marketers and HR practitioners are all needed to successfully build, launch, and market a successful game,” adds Moberg Edenbäck.

Project management, product management and UX design are also highly transferable skill sets, with many people bringing this kind of expertise into gaming after starting out their careers in other industries.

Network, get a mentor and look for internships

Some practical tips Magdalena Björkman shares for those wanting to switch to gaming are to network, look for mentors, and keep an eye out for internships.

“People are very friendly in the gaming industry, so just talk to them! It’s easy to reach out and approach people as mentors, which can help a lot. Also, look for internships, and go to networking events,” she says.

“There are more opportunities now compared to ten years ago, with boot camps and such. I work with a producer at Arrowhead now who had a background in publishing, but he did a course, and now he’s a full-time game producer.”

However, she urges people not to take the decision to switch careers lightly.

“Gaming can be tough. You need to love what you’re doing, take care of yourself, and have other hobbies outside of gaming. It’s easy to get consumed,” she says.

Get an education in gaming

For those who are truly committed to switching to a career in gaming, studying at one of Stockholm’s specialised gaming schools may be an option (they also offer evening classes).

Unsurprisingly, Futuregames’ Cascante is a big advocate for gaming schools and believes they’re a great pathway into the industry for people with the interest but not the experience.

“I’m chairman of the board of education at Futuregames, and we see people in Stockholm are actually taking courses to break into the industry,” he says.

“They take around two and a half years, which sounds like a lot, but you get a lot of training and professional internships in studios. The schools are really good at matchmaking between companies and students. Often the students stay on after their internships, and if they don’t, they still get at least six months of real experience in the industry.”

Minecraft has sold more than 300 million copies, making it the best selling game ever. Photo: Melker Dahlstrand/

Other schools include the Sweden Game Area and The Game Assembly, which offer courses in everything from agile project management in gaming to game design and 3D modelling for artists. Most of Sweden’s gaming studios offer internships regularly, including Mojang.

Swedish universities also offer part-time remote modules in for example coding. It’s free to study at university in Sweden for EU citizens and for non-EU residents who are in Sweden on another permit than a student permit, so for example work permits or spouse permits.

Ride the post-boom wave

The gaming industry has a historic reputation for only hiring people with gaming experience, but Björkman believes this mindset is changing.

“In the past, the industry has been a little elitist. It used to be that you needed ten years of experience to get into gaming, but now that’s changing and it’s becoming more open. This is great because we need experience from different industries to bring new know-how and knowledge. We don’t need to do things the same way all the time,” she says.

This is no surprise. After substantial long-term success, it makes sense that a talent-strapped industry has to start casting its net a little wider.

The conclusion? As long as you’re passionate, proactive, and can offer a valuable new perspective, it’s definitely possible to switch to a career path in Sweden’s burgeoning gaming industry.