Sweden: End of an unprecedented strike within the Lutheran Church

"Help yourself and heaven will help you": the unions of employees of the Church of Sweden put an end to an unprecedented strike movement on Wednesday which threatened to extend to priests, after an agreement with their employers' organization.

The call for a strike, which so far only concerned part of the staff (janitors and crematorium employees) was launched last week in the face of the failure of negotiations with the management of the Swedish Lutheran Church, still majority in the country but faced with a decline in its resources.

With 24.000 employees, the former State Church has only 5,8 million members – who pay a specific tax to finance it – compared to more than 7 million in the 70s.

The unions, led by the organization Kommunal, had been negotiating for several months around new collective agreements, while the management hoped for savings.

On Tuesday evening, the employers' organization of the Church of Sweden finally accepted the new agreement proposed by the unions.

"We would have liked to go further, but we take our responsibilities so that the key activity of the Church of Sweden can continue to function," said the Church's chief negotiator, Cecilia Herm, in a press release.

In the absence of an agreement, the strike threatened to extend to priests and other members of clerical institutions on Friday, which could then disrupt baptisms, weddings and other major events of the faithful.

It is the first time that Sweden has known in its history a call to strike within its Church, even if the social movement has remained limited.

For the unions, this turnaround on the part of the Church is a victory.

"We naturally welcome that the employer has rethought its approach and that it has accepted our proposal," Markus Furuberg, negotiator for one of the unions that called for the strike, told AFP.

The Church has long played a central role in the lives of Swedes, but religious practice has collapsed in recent decades.

Until the 1950s, Swedes were automatically attached to a religious community at birth.

The introduction of a new religious freedom law in 1951 allowed them to leave the Church.

The editorial staff (with AFP)

Image credit: Shutterstock.com / Mikhail Markovskiy

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