Sunday, 2 November 2014

Pilsener and the Swedish general strike of 1909

It was just in Britain where momentous events took place in 1909. There was also a general strike in Sweden.

Like the British general strike of 1926, it ended in total defeat for the trade unions. But even worse, restrictions on the sale of alcohol were introduced:

Comedian Acts as Amateur Tramcar Conductor.
One consequence of the great Swedish strike is that no punch has been sold in Stockholm for ten days.

Those who know Sweden, says a correspondent of The Times significantly, can realise what this means.

A few tramway cars are running, many of the drivers being volunteers. Among the new conductors is one of the best-known comedians in the town.

The daily papers, according to this correspondent lost but one day, emergency hands having produced editions which, sold at double the usual price, show by their many misprints that amateur compositors have been at work on them.

Journeymen bakers have joined the strike, but the master bakers are doing their best, and bread of some sort is still obtainable.

But nothing has created such a change as the sudden prohibition by the State of the sale of spirits. In every hotel and cafe posted the legend, "No spirits to served until further notice;" while another order has been issued to the effect that no Pilsener, vermouth, or wine is to be served except with at least sixpennyworth of cooked food.

All the wine merchants' shops are closed, and Stockholm is undergoing the new sensation of enforced temperance. What the ultimate effect of this will be is a matter of much speculation.

Many people are finding that they can spend quite enjoyable day or evening with nothing more potent than coffee or lemonade to take the place of the seductive Swedish punch or brandy liqueurs.

But the immediate consequences are patent. The town very quiet, the cafes are nearly empty. There is no drunkenness, no brawling, and no noisy arguments.

The quays, the river, the bays, the rocks are lined with fishermen, and in many cases actually shoulder to shoulder accumulating little heaps of perch and bream and the other fishes peculiar the brackish waters of the fiords of the Baltic.

Of this precautionary edict prohibition the leaders of the strikers approve, even they were not actually it originators, for they have done much to render the huge strike organisation as orderly as possible by picketing the town and assisting the police."
Dundee Evening Telegraph - Wednesday 18 August 1909, page 2.

Was this the start of restrictions on the sale of alcohol in Sweden? Note that at the time there were still wine merchants. Hang on. I can look up when the Systembolaget came into being.

I found a nice overview of Swedish legislation regarding alcohol wholesaling and retailing on the Systembolaget website:

Swedish alcohol legislation
Year legislation
1905 Riksdagen (the Swedish Parliament) orders all vodka sales to be handled via special companies.
1914 Compulsory ration books and individual rationing comes in with the establishment of AB Stockholmssystemet.
1917 AB Vin & Spritcentralen is formed, taking over all wholesaling activities.
1919 Compulsory rationing is introduced throughout Sweden and the local Systembolaget companies also acquire a monopoly in wine sales.
1922 Referendum on total prohibition. – 889,000 vote for and 925,000 against.
1955 The ration book is abolished and the regional Systembolaget. Companies are merged into one nationwide retailing company..
1957 Riksdagen votes to introduce blacklists and the compulsory showing of identification..
1969 The minimum age is lowered from 21 to 20 years
1977 Blacklists are abolished..
1991 Systembolaget’s first self-service store opens in Filipstad.
1994 The European Commission accepts Systembolaget’s monopoly in alcohol retailing.
1995 Vin & Sprit AB’s monopoly is dismantled and Systembolaget acquires 159 suppliers, instead of one.
Systembolaget website

I can well remember the shock of first going into a self-service Systembolaget. It seemed so . . . . normal. Just like shopping for everything else. If you've only ever lived in Sweden a French supermarket must come as a shock with aisle after aisle of every kind of booze.


Ed said...

The white terror!

Magnus Bark said...

It doesn't tell much about beer, does it?

Let's see if I can get the numbers right, all alcohol levels are in ABV:

1922 - Beers stronger than 4 % are banned.

1952 - Beers stronger than 3.5 % are banned (the strongest beer had in reality been weaker during the 40's due to barley shortage).

1955 - Starköl (strong beers) 3.6 % - 5.6 % are introduced at Systembolaget.

1965 - Mellanöl (medium beers) 3.6 - 4.5 % are introduced at supermarkets.

1977 - Mellanöl are banned from the supermarkets. 3.6-5 % beers are in reality impossible to sell due to the tax system.

1992 - Beers 3.6 % - 4.5 % got a new tax category and are now sold at Systembolaget.

1995 - Sweden joins the EU. The ban on beers stronger than 5.6 % is removed. A new tax category (0 %) for 2.8 % beers is introduced.

J. Karanka said...

I moved from Finland to Spain when I was four years old. I still remember the faces of older finns when they saw that you could buy a litre of 96% alcohol for cleaning in any corner shop.