Man of the deep Swedish woods and the world
Early life in Sweden
The son of Gustaf Löfblad and Marta Ahs, John Erik Löblad was born on Februray 14th 1927 on the farm "Backarna". The farm was located deep in the woods of Gunnarskog in the county of Värmland in Sweden. After 6 years of elementary school, he would train to become a lumberjack. The hard conditions of his early life would mark him forever, igniting his drive for societal improvement. This led him to become a member of the Swedish Woodworkers Union (Svenska träarbetareförbundet). He was active also in local sports, in the Gunnarskog Idrotts Föreningen of which he was secretary from 1948 to 1954. He was an avid practitioner of orienteering and sports would remain one of his main interests his whole life. Early in life, his family moved to the farm "risbrofallet". His childhood was marked by the proximity of the Norwegian border during the second world war. It is during this time that, while listening to the radio in order to follow the world news, that he would learn English and German. Due to this he would also develop an interest in the history of World War Two. These interests would set him apart from his peers and destine him for an international life and career. His global vision was in marked contrast to his insular background as a farmer and woodcutter. He used to recount that when he ran out to announce with joy that the allies had invaded Normandy by screaming “they have arrived”, he was met with the answer “who then?” (ockre da?)
Military Service in Sweden
When called in to recruitment for his compulsory military service, John Löfblad would obtain exceptionally high scores, so high in fact that his examiners believed him to have cheated due to his basic education; they thus made him repass those examinations and much to their astonishment he repassed with high scores. Due to not having finished high school, he could not apply to officer's school, but instead was offered to serve in the military police, which he would do from 1946 to 1947. He was stationed in Stockholm being a member of the guard of the royal palace (Högvakten). This experience would be of prime importance in opening up his view to the world.
Early on, he was interested in politics and became a member of Sveriges Socialdemokratiska Ungdomsförbund (SSU-the Swedish Social Democratic Youth league). Since in 1943 there was no local party in Gunnarskog to which he could there to, he registered directly with the headquarters of SSU in Stockholm; this led to a new section Gunnarskog SDUK (Social democratisk ungdomsklubb) being created. He was elected member of the Gunnarskog Community Council from 1950 to 1954.
National Swedish politics
In 1954, as a representative for the trade unions, he became a part of the executive council of SSU. He thus became part of the entourage of the Swedish prime minister known as the Erlander boys (erlander-pojkarna; together with Ingvar Carlsson and Olof Palme. This activity would lead him to attend to the Brunnsvik school in 1950, after which he would go on to teach occasionally at the Runö school. He would attend further courses at the University of Manchester (anglo-scandinavian course of 1952) and in 1958 he would attend a course on industrial and management Engineering at Columbia University (in the City of New York School of Engineering in November 1958). During this short period in New York, he was exposed to the USA and was enormously impressed by the lectures given at Columbia University; he would also have time to briefly visit the city, becoming aware of the social problems the USA faced; being at Columbia, he would roam the streets of Harlem and get to know some of its inhabitants and would become aware of the american history of slavery. Overall this experience would make him a believer in the american trade union movement and he would be a life-long supporter of their positions, which at the end would cost him the support of many scandinavian trade union leaders. He had been a member of the communal council (kommunalfullmäktige ) in Gunnarskog in 1950-1954. He was also a member of the Swedish National board of Forestry from 1959 to 1963 (Skogsvårdsstyrelse-now skogsstyrelsen). He was a member of the central committee of the Swedish Social Democratic Youth League from 1955 to 1961 together with Bertil Löfberg, Sture Hollmann, Olof Palme, Rune Molin, Paul Söderman,and Erik Nilsson among others. In the committee he was the representative of the swedish trade unions. This committee would ask the director Peter Weiss to make a movie about drug abuse in the youth that was called "vad ska vi göra nu?". In 1958 during the SSU congress he positioned himself as favourable to the atomic bomb, which set him apart from most of his peers. He was also a member of a socialist think thank known as Bastuligan, that would meet well up until the 1990's, of which future Swedish prime minister Ingvar Carlsson was a member, as was Kurt Ward.
Trade Union career
The hard work as a lumberjack would lead him to become enter trade unionism. He thus entered the Swedish Woodworkers Union, becoming its secretary in 1960, which is why he moved to Gävle. A major influence on his way of thinking was Arne Geijer, the head of landsorganisationen, LO (the Swedish labour organization). John Löfblad was a firm believer in improvement of social conditions through cooperation between social partners and not through confrontation (he did not believe strikes to be productive) and was a staunch anti-communist. He would remain the embodiment of the politically active trade unionist his whole active life. He would remain preoccupied with workers' security as well as the well-being of the environment, two critical issues stemming from his time as a lumberjack. In 1962 he was a candidate to become the president of the Swedish Woodworkers Union after Charles Winroth, but was not chosen. He was then given 24 hours by the current Swedish prime minister, Tage Erlander, to take up a position in Washington D.C.. He would retain strong ties with most of the Swedish trade Union leaders during his tenure as general secretary, such as Hans Ericsson of the Swedish transport union. He remained a member of Unia until his death.
Labour Attaché in the Unites States of America
In 1963 he was appointed as labour attaché at the Swedish Embassy in Washington D.C.. During this time he would travel the United States to make contact with Swedish Immigrants, as well as establish life-long contacts with labour leaders in the USA such as George Meany and Jay Lovestone. He would report back to Sweden on the on-going welfare improvements in the USA.These travels by car would lead him to visit all states except Hawaii. These contacts would remain of prime importance for him for the next phase of his career. These contacts would continue with Lane Kirkland and John Sweeny. He lived at that time in Bethesda, Maryland and would commute to the Swedish embassy.
General Secretary of the International Federation of Building and Woodworkers [IFBWW]
Earlier in his activist life, he had been as a visitor to a congress of the International Federation of Building and Woodworkers (IFBWW) and had been profoundly impressed by this organization. When the position of General Secretary of the IFBWW would become vacant, due to the departure of Arne Hagen, he chose to apply. He was discouraged to take this position by Gunnar Sträng, due to its low salary. However, in 1966 at the IFBWW Congress in Oslo, he was elected General Secretary of the International Federation of Building and Woodworkers, a position he would hold until 1989. He would be re-elected at the 13th congress in Ostende, the 14th Congress in Stockholm in 1975, the 15th Congress in Vienna in 1978, the 16th Congress in Madridin 1981, the 17th Congress in Geneva in 1985. During his tenure, the Presidents of the IFBWW would be James H Mills, Abraham Buys and Konrad Carl. Initially this federation was located at Ewaldsgaede in Copenhagen Denmark, but due to his frequent travels to the ILO in Geneva, John Löfblad would move the organisation to Geneva in Switzerland, where it still is located. It was initially located in the centre of the city at the rue de la Coulouvrenière, close to the Rhône river. During his tenure the organization would grow to achieve the stature of a world-wide trade union secretariat with 3.5 million members world-wide. This was achieved by his endless traveling the globe and making contacts with new Trade Union Secretariats. Most notably he would establish personal contacts with the leaders of the AFL-CIO, such as their historic president George Meany, as mell as many leading american labour leaders such as Edward J. Carlough. In 1982 he was a special guest lecturer at the Congress of the Sheet Metal Workers International Association. He would integrate many trade unions from the united states (most notably the international union of bricklayers and allied craftworkers and the international union of operating engineers) , Japan as well as Africa and South America during his tenure. He would attend the yearly conference of the AFL-CIO in Florida. In Europe he would also have contacts with Irving Brown. He would also travel extensively to Africa and South America in order to promote education for trade unionists. He would also visit repeatedly countries such as Turkey and Chile. During his visits to Turkey he would visit Bülent Ecevit in prison. Visits to convicted trade unionists in dictatorships was one of his missions. When he joined the IFBWW, it was mostly a Northern European Federation; through his tireless work he would build it up to be an organisation with millions of members all over the globe. When he left in 1989 he had established regional offices in Kuala Lumpur (Asia-pacific), in Lome(Africa) and in Panama City (latin America). He was globally respected because of his roots that were firmly placed in the working class, despite taking some controversial positions such as his anti-communist policy that would upset his Swedish colleagues. This belief came from his position that freedom was necessary for the development of worker's rights. Over the years he would have heated differences with Veikko Porkkala from Finland but would nevertheless visit him on his 100th birthday. In September 1968, following the Soviet invasion of Chekoslovakia, he famously contested the Soviet presidency of the ILO's 8th session of Building, Civil Engineering and Public Works Committee. During his last years as General Secretary he would continue to fight for the improvement of worker's conditions, becoming especially interested on the impact of asbestos on their life. He would organise the IFBWW's first meeting on the environment in 1988. Due to his vast experience he would lecture internationally at trade union conferences all around the globe, except for the those in the communist block. During his last tenures, tensions would increase between the representatives of the building and wood trades, slowly tiring him out, especially the endless and needless tensions with the swedish representatives from the building trades who resented a woodworker being the leader of what they considered their international. Also, tensions between the scandinavian trade unions and the american trade unions became a problem for him since he very Swedish at heart but at the same time admired the american trade union movement. Being from the woodworkers Union, tensions with the Builders had been constant and growing, especially in Sweden paradoxically.He would step down at the18th congress in Singapore (december 4-7,1989). His successor would be Ulf Asp. In 2005 the IFBWW merged with the World Federation of Building and Wood Workers and is now the Building and Wood Workers International. . While in Geneva he would also participate annually at the ILO's international labour conference. During his tenure he had built up an organisation entered on Scandinavia into a real international trade secretariat.
In the early 1970's, the renowned Swedish journalist Erik Goland of Swedish television produced a documentary on John Löfblad, documenting his ascension from a life as a lumberjack without education to becoming a diplomat and then leading an international organization. It was called "Ut i världen vill jag" (translation: I want out into the world): it highlighted the subjects' desire to rise above his humble beginnings and to become a citizen of the world. He would keep closed ties to both Goland and Sven Thiessen who hailed from the region.
Cooperation with the ILO
He was the Secretary of the Worker's group at the first session of the Forestry and Wood Industries Committee of the ILO, from september 18 to 15 1985.
He was the secretary of the Worker's group at the 11th session on Building, civil engineering and public works committee in april 1987.
John Löfblad would represent the IFBWW at the ICFTU and would serve as a member of the governing board of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unionsfrom 1983 to 1986. He was a representative of the International Trade Secretariats on the governing board of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions from 1970 to 1990.
After retiring he was active as a member of the Board of Directors for the Hassan Fathy Institute from 1999 to 2005, now the International Construction Institute. Besides this, he largely abstained from any activity in the trade union field. Having seen the Berlin wall fall, his work was done, there was no need for a separation of trade union movements. Also, having been an avid traveller who flew more than 200 days a year, after september 11 2001 he would no longer travel except for his visit to Porkkala.
On March 21 1959 he married Ingrid Anna-Lisa Johannesson, whom he met through his work with SSU, they had one child, Karl-Olof Lovblad, born in Gävle, who is a professor in Neuroradiology at Geneva University Hospital. After retiring, John Löfblad would stay in Geneva where he would remain until his death on January 17 2016 following a subdural hematoma. He was a member of the Vasa Order of America and was a member of utlandssvenskarna. Despite living outside Sweden, he remained a Swedish citizen, stating: "Whatever I did, I did it for my country". His wife would die shortly after, of cardiac failure, on February 20 2016.
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Whatever I did, I did it for Sweden