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In Sweden, Automation Is Welcomed By All, Even Unions

Screengrab / Bloomberg / Rethink Robotics / YouTube

Sweden, unlike the U.S, has both strong unions and strong social insurance programs for the public.

Sweden, like other Nordic nations, is welcoming automation with open arms.

Unlike the U.S, Sweden has both strong unions and strong social insurance programs for the public, things that prevent the type of mass privation that is being experienced in the United States. Workers who are replaced by automation will be retrained for other industries.

In much of the world, people whose livelihoods depend on paychecks are increasingly anxious about a potential wave of unemployment threatened by automation. But such talk has little currency in Sweden or its Scandinavian neighbors, where unions are powerful, government support is abundant, and trust between employers and employees runs deep. Here, robots are just another way to make companies more efficient.

In Sweden, workers side with corporations, as do their unions, in the need for fuller automation. Unlike the U.S. or the U.K., where friction between corporations and workers is typical, in nordic countries, the social contract has been designed for there to be more cooperation between these parties.

“In Sweden, if you ask a union leader, ‘Are you afraid of new technology?’ they will answer, ‘No, I’m afraid of old technology,’” says the Swedish minister for employment and integration, Ylva Johansson. “The jobs disappear, and then we train people for new jobs. We won’t protect jobs. But we will protect workers.”

Sweden's social insurance programs are also responsible for promoting a culture of entrepreneurism. Whereas, in the U.S., people may typically go bankrupt if a business idea goes flat, in Sweden, government programs promote a soft-landing for struggling entrepreneurs.

“A good safety net is good for entrepreneurship,” says Carl Melin, policy director at Futurion, a research institution in Stockholm. “If a project doesn’t succeed, you don’t have to go broke.”