Denmark: Red-Green Alliance arms itself for vital 2019 election fights
By Dick Nichols May 12, 2018 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — The annual conference of Denmark’s Red-Green Alliance (RGA) — known inside the country as the Unity List: the Red-Greens — took place on April 27-29 during a moment of class struggle unusual in these times of weakened trade union organisation. The conference of the radical left force wouldn’t even have happened at that time if Denmark’s public sector unions had been forced to strike in support of their demands over wages and conditions. By April 28, however, as a result of a six-week-long wave of mobilisations that won strong public support, negotiation by itself was enough for the 750,000 workers in the country’s three tiers of government to win an average 8.1% pay rise over three years. Variations on this average figure will allow funding of a reduction in the gender wage gap and higher wage increases for the low-paid. The continuing payment of lunch breaks is also guaranteed and any future private sector wage gains will be matched in the public sector. The biggest shortcoming of the deal, which has still to be endorsed by the memberships of the unions involved, was the failure of council-employed teachers to get the national law setting their working hours replaced by an agreement with their employing bodies. This legislation was imposed by the 2011-2015 Social Democrat-led government to end a 2013 lockout that the government itself had deliberately provoked. A special commission will now be set up to tackle the issue. Given the support the public sector workers’ campaign enjoyed in the Danish population at large, the right-wing coalition government of Liberal prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen chose to avoid a 2013-style confrontation, claiming, in the words of Minister for Public Sector Innovation Sophie Løhde, that the employing bodies had not been too generous. This comment came in response to Jacob Halbraad, spokesperson for the Confederation of Danish Employers, who had said on April 29 that the price of the final deal had been excessive: “There is a risk of it affecting wage levels in the private sector, which could cause a loss of growth and jobs in Denmark.” RGA members mobilised strongly in support of the public sector workers. By contrast, the formerly governing Social Democrats, the largest party on the “red” side of a Danish political spectrum that is conventionally divided into red and blue halves, maintained a stance of seeming neutrality. On March 15, party leader Mette Frederiksen said: “The Social Democrat party does not interfere in conflicts relating to the Danish labour market. That’s how the Danish model works.” This stance implied that the Social Democrats would accept an employer lock-out resulting from any breakdown in negotiations, an attitude that has deepened the divide between the trade unions and the party that was once their political voice. Evidence of this was the decision of the Aalborg branch of the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) to withdraw their traditional invitation for the leader of the Social Democrats to address May Day, an important event in Danish political life. By contrast, the RGA’s support for the public sector workers has been reflected in a recent rise in their support in opinion polls, now at over 10% compared to the 7.8% won at the June 2015 general election.
What conditions for supporting a Social Democrat government?In this context one of the most important tasks facing the 300 delegates to the RGA conference was to clarify the conditions on which the RGA would allow a Social Democrats-led government to form after the next Danish parliamentary election (due before June 17, 2019). Urgency was added to this discussion by recent opinion polls showing the “red” parties (the Social Democrats, RGA, Socialist People’s Party (SF), The Alternative and Social Liberals) with a majority over their presently ruling “blue” opponents, led by the Liberals and the xenophobic Danish People’s Party (DPP). The discussion started from a general acceptance that the previous position of the RGA towards the Social Democrats was now unworkable. This was to unconditionally support the formation of a Social Democrats administration but not take part in it, and to decide on its bills on their merit but not move a censure motion that might see the government fall. The need for a change was due to the experience of the last Social Democrats government of prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt. Once invested with RGA support, it effectively exploited the RGA’s orientation to implement — with the support of the parties of the right — measures hurting workers and people on welfare (such as a 2012 tax cut for the wealthy and the partial privatisation of the state-owned DONG energy group). Even though the RGA did not suffer as much as the SF, which took part in the Thorning-Schmidt administration, its commitment not to move a censure motion was seen by many voters and sympathisers as guaranteeing the survival of an anti-worker government. But what conditions to now place on the Social Democrats? Here the conference discussion circled around the idea of drawing lines in the sand (“red lines”) that the largest “red” party would have to agree not to cross. This approach would be along the lines of the anti-austerity conditions imposed on the Portuguese Socialist Party (PS) by the Left Bloc and the Portuguese Communist Party before and after the October 2015 Portuguese poll. Those conditions have seen the now-governing PS move to increase wage and welfare payments, recover and strengthen labour and union rights, stop privatisations and shift the tax burden off the shoulders of the poor. Some delegates at the conference looked to specify Danish equivalents to such measures, but the conference overwhelmingly supported the proposal presented by the outgoing RGA leadership in its balance sheet of work done over the past year. This was to introduce the concept of “red lines”—both in any period of negotiations over government and afterwards — but not to specify these lines in advance of the political situation at the time of the next election. The position gives the incoming National Board of the RGA room to develop maximum pressure on the Social Democrats over coming months. In the meantime, the party’s message can operate in public debate with still-remembered Social Democrats’ anti-worker behaviour showing the sort of issues that would constitute break points in future negotiations. One of these will surely be the Social Democrats February proposal for having African refugee applicants for Danish citizenship processed in a special “offshore” holding centre somewhere in Africa — an attempt to win back xenophobic voters who have deserted the Social Democrats for the DPP. This is the latest capitulation to racism and xenophobia in a country where the DPP is the second-largest parliamentary group and the Rasmussen government announced in March that it would implement a 12-year plan to rid the country of “ghettoes”. These were defined as areas meeting at least two of these three criteria:
• At least 50% of residents are immigrants from non-Western countries;
• At least 40% of residents are unemployed; and
• At least 2.7% of residents have criminal convictions.Among the measures proposed is a plan to double punishments for crimes committed in the “ghettoes” — thus violating the principle of equality before the law — and to require “ghetto” children to attend 30 hours a week day care as soon as they turn one.
100 days with the Unity ListThe discussion over “red lines” might seem to imply that the RGA accepts that it is destined to always be subordinate to the Social Democrats (with around a third of its electoral support) yet this is untrue. On April 25, just before the conference opening, the RGA released its pamphlet 100 Days with the Unity List, a costed set of 100 measures that a Danish government committed to social justice, environmental sustainability and a peace-promoting foreign policy could implement in its first 100 days in office. Asked by the web-based daily DR what the point of the document was when it was still impossible to imagine an RGA-led government, spokesperson Pernille Skipper said: “Danes must use it to know that it is possible to have different policies and that there is no need to choose between two different shades of blue.” As such, 100 Days is both a discussion starter (“at work, at school, at family celebrations”) and a challenge to the Social Democrats and the smaller parties of the “red” bloc to take part in a national policy conversation and explain their response to the proposals: if they are desirable, why not take them on board; if not, please explain why. The pamphlet is thus both a challenge to Danish society and its political parties, but also an invitation to improve on an initial draft and develop a project that goes beyond the ranks of the RGA alone. It will be interesting to track how much response the document — posted on the RGA web site and with comment on all its sections simple to make — gets over the coming months. The content of 100 Days with the Unity List is summarised in an Appendix to this article.
Green ProgramThe conference also produced a second powerful political weapon to add to 100 Days. This is the RGA’s Green Program, which starts from a concise but all-round analysis of the roots of the ecological crisis in production for profit, stressing its impact on inequality within and between nations, and the inadequacy of the mainstream treatments such as “green growth”. From here the document outlines a red-and-green strategy for achieving “a collective framework for sustainable living”. It says:
• Should the RGA, in trying to increase its influence within the broader environment and green movement replace the term “socialism” with “social justice”?
• Should the RGA advocate the banning of all genetically modified organisms when, for example, some are promising for treating cancer?
• Should the RGA explicitly commit to zero growth above and beyond “freeing ourselves from the demands of economic growth”?Some delegates spoke to the theoretical work that the RGA has still to do, touching, for example, on the need to further think through the humanity-nature relation and to elaborate the core features of the ecosocialist project beyond its role as a necessary answer to the environmental crisis. Taken as whole, the debate on the RGA’s transitional Green Program moved back and forth between two imperatives: the need to project policies that have a chance of galvanising majority support within today’s balance of political forces, and the need to project policies adequate to solving the environment, especially climate, crisis in all its enormity. The core dilemma — that the feasible can be inadequate and the adequate unfeasible — can only be resolved by rising mass consciousness of the scale of the environmental crisis, driven by struggle and the resultant growth of red-green consciousness and politics. The RGA’s Green Program will be an invaluable weapon in that fight. When the text as amended was put to the conference it was carried unanimously. This was confirmation of a point repeatedly made by delegates: the process of developing the document had been extremely positive, all points of view felt they had been respected and the outcome establishes the RGA as Denmark’s leading green political force. This is only a brief and partial summary of the Green Program, without information on the voting on amendments because of absence from that conference session. Given its ambition and the gains achieved it is to be hoped that the text as amended by the conference will be translated into other languages and become known within the European left and beyond.
ElectionsThe influence of the conference’s environment document reached beyond the discussion on it, leading also to the election of the so-called “Green ticket” of RGA candidates for the forthcoming Danish elections, to be held on or before June 17, 2019. The RGA elects its candidates for Danish and European elections via a democratic but necessarily complicated method. First, individual branch members from the branches in Denmark’s ten multimember electorates vote for the candidates they support in order of preference. Then the conference candidacy committee puts forward its suggested ticket, taking into account the order established by the membership vote, but also weighing gender (men cannot be more than 60 per cent), representation of the RGA’s areas of intervention and geographical balance (including, if possible, having candidates stand in the region where they are best known). Conference delegates can also put forward alternative tickets, which will weight these criteria — generally impossible to meet simultaneously — in ways different to those of the candidate committee. At this conference two other tickets were presented, one “Green”, which moved Søren Egge Rasmussen, the RGA’s spokesperson on energy, food and fisheries, up to an electable position, and the other with a 50-50 gender balance. The delegates then vote on the tickets, and if any wins more than 67% of the vote, it becomes the RGA’s official ticket for the election. If none reaches this figure, a vote is taken between the two tickets with least support and the one winning fewer votes is eliminated. Then a vote is taken on the two remaining contenders. If the winner gains at least 67% of the vote it becomes the official ticket for the election; if not, the RGA membership as a whole decides between the two tickets and a simple majority suffices to establish a winner. In a sign of the importance the delegates were putting on the RGA’s environmental work and the Green Program, the final vote for the “Green ticket” was 228 -54 as against the suggestion from the candidacy committee. At this conference the RGA also began to concretise a decision it had made at its 2017 conference: to stand in its own name in the 2019 elections for the European Parliament, as well as continuing its support for the People’s Movement Against the European Union. Motivated by the disastrous defeat of the Greek SYRIZA government at the hands of the European Commission in July 2015, the RGA has also already made moves to develop a multi-country ticket for the May 2019 European parliamentary elections based on proposals arising from the Plan B movement for a people’s Europe. To date, the parties committed to this new electoral alliance are the RGA, the Swedish Left Party, France Unbowed, Spain’s Podemos and the Portuguese Left Bloc. These parties, along with Mary Lou McDonald of Ireland’s Sinn Fein and Gabi Zimmer, president of the European United Left - Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) group in the European Parliament, sent video greetings to the conference, with France Unbowed MP Younous Omarjee delivering a special address. With this conference, the RGA showed that it is one of the European left’s most advanced detachments, arming itself politically for both the 2019 Danish and European elections. Its 100 Days with the Unity List is an agenda-setter for Danish politics while its Green Platform will make a big contribution to the thinking of all red-green parties grappling with the challenges of the ecosocialist transition. In Copenhagen on April 27-29, the struggle for democracy, social justice and environmental sustainability got a serious boost, in Denmark and in Europe. Dick Nichols is Green Left Weekly’s European correspondent, based in Barcelona. He attended the RGA conference on behalf of the Australian Socialist Alliance. An initial account of the conference has appeared on the Green Left Weekly web site.
Appendix: 100 Days with the Unity List summarised100 Days with the Unity List divides its 100 policy proposals into the twelve areas outlined below. In total, the policies would cost 49.9 billion Danish crowns ($A10.69 billion) over their first year and be funded by 58.4 billion Danish crowns ($A12.51 billion) in taxation on profits, wealth and financial speculation and cuts to military expenditure.
• A safe and secure working life. Create secure employment by enforcing existing job standards to end the race to the bottom in wages and conditions; End the harassment of people on social welfare by replacing punitive job search requirements with individual attention to unemployed people; Combine this with a large-scale trial of a Guaranteed Minimum Income; Create a part-time work company along the lines of Sweden’s Samhall (which has created over 20,000 jobs for people with a reduced work capacity); Give preference in public procurement to companies that take on social responsibilities.
• A society that is sustainable. Implement an emergency green energy plan, involving the creation of five giant offshore wind farms; Facilitate local-level solar installation; Exploit unused geothermal resources for heating; Adopt a comprehensive plan of energy saving; Introduce socially organised recycling through “libraries” that organise the borrowing of clothing, tools, toys, electric vehicles, bicycles etc.; Move towards organic agriculture via phasing out noxious pesticide use and creating a state fund to buy up bankrupt farms for conversion to organic farming; Move towards sustainable fishing via phasing out industrial fishing quotas; Expand spaces for wild nature.
• Education for life. Create an equal non-competitive educational model; Base it on smaller class sizes and the employment of 1000 more teachers; Shorten the school day; End standardised testing; Provide employer-funded internships for people starting work; Boost funding for retraining and lifelong education; Create greater student and staff participation in the management and development of the education system.
• Health for all. Start with an immediate 1.4 billion Danish crown ($A300 million) boost to hospital funding and the creation of a one billion Danish crown ($A213 million) psychiatric treatment fund; Devolve hospital management to the regions; Extend the free dental care available to under 18-year-olds to the whole population; Provide increased resources for midwifery; Establish a public pharmaceutical company and tax the super-profits of private pharmaceutical concerns.
• A decent old age. Begin with the employment of 1400 extra carers for the elderly; End the pressure on municipalities to engage private aged-care providers; Adopt a charter of the rights of the elderly.
• A good life for families and children. Trial within the public sector a 30-hour working week without loss in pay, measuring the impact on absenteeism, quality of service and worker job satisfaction; Allow an extra year’s parental leave paid at the unemployment benefit rate; Increase staffing of childcare centres and prohibit private childcare provision; Entrench the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in Danish law as well as children’s right to be heard in divorce proceedings.
• A social policy that lifts everyone up. Start with the introduction of a poverty line that captures real income needs; Prioritise poverty prevention; Allow municipalities to undertake social investment and retain savings from successful projects; Decriminalise drug use and provide better treatment services; Exempt the homeless from financial obligations until they are rehoused; Provide a transit hostel for homeless foreign workers looking for employment in Denmark; Give better assistance to victims of human trafficking, either to return home or settle in Denmark.
• A more equal society. Create an equal pay fund of five billion Danish crowns ($A1.065 billion) to reduce the gender wage gap that cannot be tackled via collective agreements; Introduce three months paternity leave so fathers do their share of early child care; Provide better support for victims of domestic violence and young people escaping oppressive domestic situations; Entrench the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Danish law; Give municipalities access to private housing market so that new arrivals and refugees do not end up concentrated in an “Underdenmark” of public housing; Award grants to schools in function of need, with the state subsidy to private schools redirected so schools assuming social responsibility get allocated a larger proportion of the grant.
• A stronger democracy and the rule of law. Introduce measures to enforce transparency in public service operations, including preparation of parliamentary legislation; Put an end to the “revolving door” between the cabinet office and corporate boardrooms; End perks for government officeholders; Introduce prison reform; Include automatic sunset clauses in anti-terrorism legislation and emergency regulations; Enact whistleblower protection legislation.
• Housing, life and culture across Denmark. Start work on high-speed train and light rail networks across the entire country; Shift 1.6 billion Danish crowns ($A340 million) in the tax take from low-pollution and electric cars to polluting vehicles; Immediately reduce all public transport fares by 30 per cent; Allow municipalities to assign up to 50% of new developments to public housing; Remove loopholes from the Housing Control Act that allow landlords to increase rents for small improvements made to properties; Develop culture at the local level by establishing a fund that provides matching funding to local government for spending on culture; Issue a cultural and sporting events discount card for poor families.
• Denmark — pioneering country internationally. In relation to the European Union: Implement the minimum standards social protocol proposed by European trade unions; Veto trade agreements that reduce employee rights, environmental standards and consumer protection; Require all new European Commission proposals to be endorsed by the Danish parliament; Challenge any EU rules that undercut Danish standards. Take an active role in peace-building and conflict resolution initiatives, help create Scandinavian peace zone; Cancel new fighter aircraft purchases and dissolve the Home Guard, using the funds saved (400 million Danish crowns, $A85 million) for disaster management preparation at home and abroad; Increase development aid to one per cent of GDP; Lead the war on multinational corporation tax evasion; Recognise Palestine as an independent state on its pre-1967 borders and move to end the EU-Israel trade agreement unless Israel implements UN resolutions on Palestine; Move for the EU to punish member states refusing to take their quota of refugees by cutting regional and agricultural assistance; Set the Danish refugee quota at 2000 a year over and above automatic family reunion.
• An economy for the many, not the few. Implement a fully funded tax reform that delivers tax cuts for the majority by lifting the tax rate on income over one million crowns ($A213,000) by five per cent; Have tax rates on company share income equal those for normal income; Introduce a share market transaction tax of 0.5 per cent; Increase the inheritance tax to 30 per cent for inheritances above 750,000 crowns ($A 160,000); Apply a one per cent wealth tax on assets over three million crowns ($A640,000); Employ 1000 new tax inspectors (the estimated gain from 500 extra inspectors is 4.1 billion crowns ($A873 million); Increase bank regulation; Create a public bank; Implement a procurement policy that punishes tax evaders and rewards companies prepared to assume social obligations; Increase funding of the Green Investment Fund; Provide tax incentives for cooperatives, democratically managed public funds and companies transitioning to employee ownership; Withdraw from the EU Fiscal Pact that mandates deficit reduction targets regardless of economic conditions; End privatisations and study the possibility of renationalising key privatised companies.Notes  The Danish name of the ruling Liberal party is Venstre (“left”). This confusing terminology has its roots in the fact that Venstre, the country’s main liberal-conservative formation, stood to the left of the old landlord and aristocratic parties of the nineteenth-century. In 1905, a left split from Venstre produced the Radikale Venstre (“radical left”), known in English as the Social Liberals. In Danish politics the Social Liberals are included in the “red” bloc and the Liberals in the “blue” bloc to which Danish parties are conventionally assigned. However, at the level of the European Parliament both belong to the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) group. See here for a list of Denmark’s parliamentary parties, along with their party letter, and here for their relative performance in recent Danish opinion polling.  The Socialist People’s Party (SF) originated as a 1959 split from the Danish Communist Party, provoked by the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956. See here for more history.  The Alternative was founded in 2013 by former MPs of the Social Liberals. See here for more detail.  See Note 1.  The Danish People’s Party is a xenophobic, right-populist outfit that “defends Danish values” against the supposed threat from Muslims and refugees. See here for more detail.  Created after World War II, the Danish Home Guard was inspired by the Danish Resistance Movement during the war. For more details see here.