The following article from Politiken discusses the seismic shift in Denmark from the traditional Socialist parties to the Danish People’s Party. Politiken — a major leftist paper, the Danish equivalent of the NYT — asked questions of a real Danish worker, and not a university professor, in attempt to understand what’s going on.
Worker: I understand colleagues who votes for Dansk Folkeparti (The Danish People’s Party) damn well
The red coalition lacks solutions to the challenges the workers face: globalization, outsourcing of jobs and immigration.
By Vanessa Christophersen and Per Michael Jespersen
Whenever I use my left-wing arguments towards co-workers at the construction sites, it strikes me that I don’t have any solutions to their problems. The same goes for Venstre [Danish conservative-liberal political party] in general. The main reason for the right-wing majority among Danish workers in the private sector is the fact that the left wing offers no solution to their problems. I understand my colleagues who votes for the Danish People’s Party damn well.
These are the words of the 35-year-old left-wing concrete worker Jacob Mathiassen, There are not many of his kind left. The last poll done by Politiken [Danish daily] shows that the majority of Danish workers support either the Danish People’s Party or the Liberal Party. It’s a huge problem, says Jakob Mathiassen, who also wrote a chapter in the newly released book: ‘Right-wing populism — the left wing’s Achilles heel’.
“When I started work in 2001, I was well aware of the growing support of the right wing among Danish workers. I was convinced that what the workers really needed, though, was a good dose of socialist agitation. So that’s what I did. At the construction site where I was working then, there was an old crane operator, a former B & W employee. He was proud, professional, skilled, and cursed like there was no tomorrow. Unfortunately, most of it was just racial slurs. He voted for DF. And quite often he managed to turn the rest of the workers against me. Over and over as time went by. One day it suddenly struck me: ‘Maybe my colleagues have good reasons for voting DF? Could it be as simple as their problems were caused by the left wing?’”
Do you think so yourself?
“Yes. If you take a look on what’s happening right before your eyes – you have to be stupid not to vote for DF. The far left side of the Social Democrats has especially failed to keep up with the new challenges arising: Companies that outsource. Immigration. And the steady increasing poverty problem. The Left wing’s strategy is often seen as both unrealistic and unreliable among workers in general.”
Don’t you think DF could risk being accused of being selfish and xenophobic?
“Many of our colleagues who vote for the Danish People’s Party are in the same group which has the highest work ethics as well. DF are often highly social, and some of my best colleagues are nationalists. Taking pride in what they do is common. Solidarity and helping others is also a high priority. DF has a special ability to focus on the problems that the workers experience on a daily basis.
“In many ways, DF keeps in touch with reality and adjust to the same challenges as most workers do. They don’t sit around tables for months wasting time on launching new theories about the social-anthropological aspects of events. They couldn’t care less about such things.”
According to Jakob Mathiassen, the Left has no solution when it comes to outsourcing jobs to low-wage countries.
“In 2011, they closed Lindøværftet [Danish shipyard] and ended Denmark’s history as a shipbuilding nation. The Left didn’t lift a finger to support the workers. Leftists haven’t got a clue on how to stop outsourcing. If a Social Democratic government threatens a multinational corporation, they just move their businesses and jobs elsewhere. This is why we haven’t been able to solve this problem.”
No one? But hasn’t the Left offered opportunities to the least educated that would allow them to improve their education, or build one, in order to prepare them for globalization?
“Sure. But it illustrates the problem perfectly: the left wing of the Social Democrats has given up defending the skilled workers. Instead of fighting for their rights, they have focused on equality and encouraged workers to give up their profession, and instead offered them re-education. It’s extremely defensive and plays along with the capitalist agenda rather than challenging it.”
How about the far left?
“They ignore the pressure of all the international competition and outsourcing of jobs. In their political program, Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen says: ‘All that’s needed are better schools and roads, etc.; that’ll do the trick.’ They trivialize it simply because they don’t have any answers. And no worker is buying that bluff anymore.”
But isn’t some of this fear exaggerated?
“As Clinton once said: The Cold War was replaced by wars between nations in order to attract businesses. Company owners operate globally; they fly around in jets, speak English with each other and aren’t limited by national borders — because all countries welcome their business. That’s why corporate taxes are lowered in one country after another. You gotta keep the billionaires happy, right? And the left can’t come up with any solutions to all of this. They have more or less given up.”
Immigration has been difficult to handle
Another aspect of globalization which has had a negative impact is immigration.
“For many workers, immigration is the very incarnation of globalization. I know a woman whose children go to school where 80 percent are immigrant children. She told me that the Danish parents who have moved their kids to other schools voted Radical or Left. The further you move to the Left, the more immigrants and refugees you accept. But the check is left for others to pay.”
But isn’t it possible to welcome globalization even if 80 percent of the children in schools were not immigrants?
“It’s hypocritical when liberals who are in favor of open borders take their children out of schools that are filled with immigrants because of the relatively open borders in Denmark during the ‘80s. I have experienced it in Nørrebro [culturally enriched district in Copenhagen], where many leftists lived in small ghettos and sent their own children to private schools. You can’t say you are in favor of the multi-ethnic society, when you don’t wish to live in one yourself.”
How do the workers react?
“They say: The leftists don’t have a clue and just care for themselves. Let me give another example of something that only liberals fails to see. I live in Sydhavnen [district in Copenhagen], where I know a single mother who’s a cleaner. Every day she comes home tired from work after picking up her daughter at the nursery. One of our neighbors is a single mother and is long-term unemployed. She is always ready to take her child from one place to another. When I meet the working mother at the laundry, she is pissed that she can’t even afford to buy butter for bread. I understand very well actually, and it’s in these waters DF steers. The right wing has for ages used the slogan: ‘It should be rewarding to work’. The Left could have used the same slogan and demanded higher wages for low-wage jobs, but don’t dare to do so.”
Following in the right wing’s footsteps
In the three areas — outsourcing, immigration and work incentives — Jakob Mathiassen says he can understand why private sector workers vote for the Danish People’s Party and the Liberals.
In all fairness, aren’t you forgetting that the government has provided tax incentives to businesses to secure jobs, wishes to reduce the numbers of immigrants and proclaim: “‘It should be rewarding to get up and prepare your lunch box for work?” Isn’t this good news for most workers?
‘The point is that this is done based on premises of the right wing. Since the coalition won the election, the government at first seemed to head in a different direction than Løkke & Co, but it never happened. That’s why most workers say: ‘You, I should never have voted for you. Why the hell should I vote for you when you copy the political direction of Venstre?’”
[Translator’s note: former Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen of Venstre. In 2011 a coalition of three left-wing parties won the election. These are: Socialdemokraterne, Socialistisk Folkeparti and Radikale Venstre. Venstre are liberals. “Radical venstre” however, are far left. The same goes for Socialistisk Folkeparti, while Socialdemokraterne are equivalent to the Labour Party in the UK. Dansk Folkeparti belong on the right wing.]
They were disappointed?
“Yes, who wants a poor copy? It’s not a pretty sight when leftists turns into populists. They are copying what the right wing has said for a long time. We would have been better off with the guys in suits in the bourgeois camp — Løkke, Barfoed, Dahl — who would probably do better at creating growth and jobs, because they are in tune with how business works in general. I assume this is how most workers see it, anyway.”
The left coalition is academic
Jacob Mathiassen believes that the “academisation” of the left explains why they haven’t been in touch with what’s going on among workers.
‘Academics have never experienced the dark side of globalization such as outsourcing of jobs to low-wage countries and integration problems, as have my co-workers. When academics decide to set the course, it can’t end well. Academics fail to read the signals the society sends. This is causing frustration among most workers.”
Do you think Danish People’s Party can offer more to meet the workers’ challenges? A bourgeois party?
“I’m not saying that the Danish People’s Party is the solution for everything. But they are much closer to the working class than the leftist parties are. I think that Pia K (Minister of state for trade and investment) has quite a few in the parliamentary group who could give her some tips on how to understand the workers’ reality. People with an aunt, brother, uncle etc. who have experienced such-and-such problems. This is a huge advantage. This isn’t something academics can’t learn by reading books. Left-wing politics is often exclusionary towards both skilled and unskilled workers. It can also often be disempowering, know-it-all, and didactic.”
The enemy is the multinational corporations
You have pinpointed all the mistakes the left wingers of the Social Democrats have made, but what is your solution?
“If the problem is globally related, then the answer also needs to be so as well. The Left needs to find international partners who will help us in challenging our real enemies: the multinational corporations and speculators. If I had to make a slogan, it would be: ‘Declare war against the multinational corporations’. They are the ones who are running the world at the moment. They have much more resources than us nationalists.”
Is this just another abstract academic strategy that could have been conceived in a group project-based training on the RUC in the 1980s? Your DF colleague in a crane, what does he have to say to all of this?
“Well, I don’t think it would be that hard to get him onboard in a battle against the multinationals. Besides, most of us already work for a multinational company today. I believe that we need to make unions that are transnational and follow companies instead of domestic policy and national borders. When we have gained enough strength, then we can put pressure on the individual multinational company. The national trade union movement can’t handle any multinational company, but an international trade union movement can .”
It sounds like a utopia.
“I’m not saying it’s going to be easy. But I think the Left needs to think innovatively and globally if they are to have any hope of gaining future votes from the workers. Right now they aren’t doing much of a job to be proud of.”