Stable demand for buses sustained production and employment at Scania-Vabis during the 1930s. The company’s independent skilled workers developed into a well-paid elite nicknamed the “Vabis pork-chop brigade”.
Compared with those in other Swedish industries, Scania-Vabis workers were highly paid, in addition to which they escaped most of the effects of the economic recession of the early 1930s (although some were laid off in 1932 due to shortage of work).
However, this did not affect the company’s skilled craftsmen, who represented an extremely high proportion of the workforce. Industrious and independent, these were regarded as more or less the cream of the engineering industry, Boosted by economic recovery, high piecework rates ensured that Scania-Vabis workers were the highest paid in Sweden – something of an “upper class” referred to enviously by others in Södertälje as the “pork-chop brigade”.
When the municipality of Södertälje provided sites for private housing on the outskirts of town, many of the skilled craftsmen availed of the opportunity of building their own homes. At this time, the town authorities had solved the housing shortage and were concentrating on the provision of educational, medical and geriatric facilities – a typical example of the Swedish “folkhem” (welfare state) envisioned by the then-Prime Minister Per Albin Hansson.
Nevertheless, the working environment was anything but satisfactory. Noise, smoke and dirt were constant problems in many areas, while both premises and machinery were in poor condition (although accidents were relatively rare). However, sanitary conditions were disgraceful; lacking washing facilities, the workers were obliged to change at home before and after their shifts.
Despite the conditions, labour turnover was extremely low, thanks to the high wages, and resignations were few and far between. This also created something of a distinctive company culture which became known as the “Vabis spirit”.