Today Nilla and I defied the warm spring weather and went inside to see five short theatre plays inspired by an article series written by Maciej Zaremba in 2005. The articles addressed our own Swedish version of the ”Plombier polonaise
”-debate which followed a blockade enforced by the unions against Latvian constructions workers in Stockholm.
As I remember that I read Zaremba’s articles with great interest, I was of course excited about this new artistic interpretation. And I must say it turned out pretty well, though a bit uneven in terms of quality between the different plays.
Clearly, the underlying political theme is as important as ever.
As the debate has evolved there are a few things in particular which I find disturbing. First, how come that Swedish middle-class kids should be allowed to work a year in for instance London, earning a relative low salary (well-protected by their parents if anything serious would happen to them) while we consider it “social tourism” if a Lithuanian girl wants to do the same in Stockhom? Second, what would really be the alternative of allowing money and jobs to flow to the new member countries in Central and Eastern Europe? To just keep these country down there in poverty? Of course not. By moving industrial production (like the vacuum-cleaner factory in Västervik which recently has been moved to Hungary) new jobs are created in these countries which eventually will raise living standards there and in turn increase demand for Swedish goods that are higher up in the value chain (read AstraZeneca pharmaceuticals or cell phones designed in Sweden).
Of course we, as a country, are a lot better off by selling such high-tech products than vacuum-cleaners. The problem is just one of distribution. Though the shareholders of Ericsson may benefit tremendously from this globalisation process, the same does not necessarily apply to the workers in that specific Västervik factory. And it is here, that we as egalitarian liberals should engage in the debate and show why distributive justice requires us to offer a new hope for people disadvantaged by increased economic globalisation. Through things like a generous study loan system or free dental care (all paid by progressive taxation of the rich) that hope can be given without awakening the spectre of paternalism.
It is time to move beyond the idea that international competition is a zero-sum game.