What was the Swedish government’s decision on Cementa about?
In July 2021, the “Land and Environment Court of Appeal” (Mark och Miljödomstolen) rejected an application from Cementa for increased limestone mining off Slite on Gotland. Cementa could not show that they could expand lime mining without damaging the groundwater. In turn, groundwater damages the water supply and nature in the area. Fossil capitalists and the business community were of course outraged by the curtailment of their profits, not only because the upper classes are holding each other’s backs but also because Cementa produces about three quarters of the cement in the country. In other words, not only are Cementa’s profits being hurt, but so are the profit prospects of other companies, think the construction industry, etc. In September 2021, all parties in parliament (red, green, blue and brown) voted through a new provisional chapter in the Environmental Code that gives Cementa a free pass to continue mining lime, “Lex Cementa” in legal terms. The Legislative Council was furious: the new rules disregarded the form of government, one of the fundamental laws. If even the constitution is not safe, but can be ignored as soon as a big enough company risks losing profits, why should the rest of us have any faith in the legal system? The government’s decision on Cementa is a textbook example of the State and Capital being in the same boat.
Has the Swedish government really violated the Constitution?
Yes. They have violated the constitution not once but twice. First, they violated the so-called “generality requirement”: that everyone is equal before the law. The decision by the government meant that the Environmental Code applies to everyone… except Cementa. Secondly, they broke the “preparation requirement”: the bodies submitting the referral were given only a few days to make their criticisms. The decision was deliberately rushed, so that neither protests from experts nor ordinary people would get in the way. The principles on which liberal democracy is allegedly built can apparently be set aside when it suits vested interests.
Why was Cementa not warned earlier? What do they need to do differently to get approval?
Cementa was warned! Over and over again. Both the County Administrative Board and the Environmental Protection Agency had been explaining and re-explaining to Cementa for several years how the evidence needed to be supplemented, which Cementa did not do. ”The ‘operator’, in this case Cementa, has the burden of proof that the activity can be carried out without causing too much damage to human health and the environment. Cementa’s documentation on the impact on Gotland’s groundwater was so poor that the environmental court could not even assess the application. Cementa did not even try. The government’s response? They rewarded Cementa by circumventing the constitution for the sake of their profits.
How can you protest against a democratically taken parliamentary decision?
We protest because we are tired of a society where capital owners (like Cementa) have the power not only to exploit our labour but also our nature. Politicians have long proven and re-proven an unwillingness to take people’s demands seriously, whether on the climate issue (as in the case of Cementa) or on labour law (as in the case of the restriction of both the right to strike and the LAS). All three examples show that corporate interests always take precedence over the people’s when things get heated in Parliament. The state obviously thinks corporate profits are more important to preserve than basic rights such as clean water & secure employment. That’s why action is needed. Public protest is the main way democracy developed from the rebellions of feudal society to the suffrage movement and the rise of trade unions. We believe that popular movements are the primary way working people can organize to take back power.
Isn’t Cementa needed for the development of society and the construction of new housing?
Social benefit should be measured in terms of people’s well-being, rather than the profits of capital owners. To call a company that poisons people’s drinking water and fuels environmental destruction ‘socially useful’ is, to say the least, gutless
The argument is also shaky when it comes to housing construction. More cement does not automatically mean more housing, and even though Cementa has been breaking the bank for a long time, the housing crisis is getting worse and worse. The housing shortage is about resource allocation and priorities – political decisions, not lack of materials. Because the production of new cement is so harmful, society should have long ago found alternative ways to meet the need for building materials. But instead of taking responsibility, politicians are pushing the problem forward for a few more years (again and again) – which only makes the problem grow bigger and bigger. We shouldn’t have to choose between homelessness and climate catastrophe, any more than we should have to choose between unemployment and climate catastrophe. Att folk ska ha rent vatten att dricka, ren luft att andas, trygg anställning och tak över huvudet på samma gång borde inte vara för mycket begärt. Neither housing, jobs, clean water nor air can be found on a dead planet. We must stop pollution now, not tomorrow!
Is it possible to build homes without cement?
It would be possible to build with other materials, and lots of materials that could be recycled. At the moment, out of 9 million tonnes of non-hazardous waste, only tens of tonnes are recycled each year due to a lack of knowledge and interest on the part of construction companies. With planning, recycling, alternative materials and priorities, we would not have a housing shortage in Sweden.