Petra Pauli’s doctoral thesis concerns the Swedish labour movement’s leader ideals and career paths in the 20th century. The focus is on the leader-movement tension that could arise if the leaders became ‘bourgeoisified’ in their new roles and social environments. Labour movement leaders could only gain legitimacy if they never left their class and never strayed from the ideals of the labour movement. The leader was expected to be part of the movement just like any other member. Anybody who departed from this norm structure was unable to be taken up into the leader strata.

‘The great success of the Swedish labour movement in the 1900s can partly be explained by the skilful management of the relationship between the leaders and the movement,’ says Petra Pauli. ‘The solution has been that the recruitment and career paths have been designed in a way that has enabled the organisations to remain in control of leadership recruitment.’

Pauli’s thesis shows that the leader ideal facilitated leadership legitimacy. The leader ideal that was developed was both authoritarian and egalitarian in nature. The authoritarian side has been used to avoid internal conflicts and to maintain the coherence of the movement. The egalitarian side has mainly been used by the leaders themselves to create a sense of belonging with the members.

As the labour movement was professionalised and bureaucratised about a century ago, the leadership tended to become increasingly bourgeoisified. Yet this development was soon halted by the movement actively maintaining strictly regulated career paths and leader ideals. The selection of leaders, with the exception of the party leader, became based almost entirely on class background and background in the Social Democratic youth organisation SSU and, in the case of the Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO), on blue collar work experience.

It was not until the 1990s, when demands for gender equality were heard, that the leader ideal started to change. As a result, the established career paths became obsolete. However, the party has in recent years returned to its traditional career patterns, as became clear when Håkan Juholt, trained in SSU and with roots in the working class, was appointed party leader. Juholt’s entry signalled a re-establishment of the traditional Social Democratic leader ideal of class before gender, something that has never been questioned in LO.

As a working class fellow from Ådalen (see the Ådalen riots) with a background in SSU, the current party leader Stefan Löfven met all the traditional party leader requirements, with the addition of solid trade union experience.

‘The union background implies a return to the historic ambition of keeping the two branches of the labour movement – the political and the union oriented – together,’ says Pauli. ‘Another indication of this ambition is that the former SSU Chairperson Karl-Petter Thorwaldsson recently was appointed to LO President.’

For more information please contact:
Petra Pauli, tel.: +46 (0)73 638 66 61, e-mail:
Thesis title: Rörelsens ledare: Karriärvägar och ledarideal i den svenska arbetarrörelsen under 1900-talet (The Leaders of the Movement – Career patterns and leader-ideal in the Swedish labour movement during the 20th Century). Written in Swedish with an English summary.
Date, time and venue of the public defence: Friday 1 June 2012 at 1-3 pm, room 10 in the University main building, Vasaplatsen, Gothenburg
Faculty examiner: Professor Lars Berggren, Lund University
Link to the thesis:
The thesis abstract is also available at