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Johan Grönvall

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Johan Grönvall as a new baker in Ystad 1883 photographer unknown, from "A Bakery Worker's Memories")

Johan Grönvall, (Johannes in Resident registration) born 28 September 1865 at Gladsax, died 2 December 1954 at Yttergran,[1][2] was a Swedish bakery worker, baker and trade unionist.[3]


Grönvall was born in Gladsaxas the son of a corporal in the Southern Skåne Infantry Regiment [sv] and his wife, who was a farmer's daughter from Onslunda. Grönvall married in 1889 Ida Josefina Kindell (1858-1938), a tailor's daughter from Södermalm in Stockholm.

As a fifteen-year-old, Grönvall was apprenticed to a baker in Simrishamn and he took his journeyman papers in Ystad in the autumn of 1883. After that it was time to do the journeyman walk. He went north on foot and by boat, worked in Nyköping and eventually arrived in Stockholm in the spring of 1885.

Already at Easter 1883, Grönvall had heard Master Palm speak in Ystad, and had become a convinced socialist. As a young baker in Stockholm, he saw many examples of poor working conditions and the exploitation of workers in the bakery industry. Above all, working hours were difficult, seventy hours a week were not uncommon and then included unregulated night work. To be able to handle the schedule, the employees had both board and lodging at the bakery as part of the salary. The quality was varied and sometimes completely substandard. Companions and apprentices often shared a bed and the rooms could be damp and draughty, with mold, vermin and rats.

Consequently, the state of health was poor and few held on to the profession longer than the age of forty. The conditions made it difficult to have an orderly life outside of work, or for that matter to support a family. In Stockholm at this time there were about 5-600 bakery workers, of which just under 10% were married. The conditions also made it difficult to organize the workers' union in order to push for better working conditions. Grönvall, who needed raw his own time to run union work, solved it by becoming a master and in 1891 opened his own bakery.

In the summer of 1894, he traveled on committee assignments in the country to map the working conditions at the bakeries, and to seek support from both workers and bakers for a ban on night work. With the support of the data that was produced, and with the help of parliamentarians in both the first and second chambers, it finally went through 1896. The following year, 1897, the first publicly initiated occupational statistics survey in Sweden was conducted by the Swedish Chamber of Commerce and it was also focused on the bakery industry. It became an important tool in the continued struggle and at the same time a pattern for many future surveys of working conditions in different industries.

A first initiative for a trade union had been taken in 1890, but it was not until the summer of 1896 that the bakery workers managed to organize themselves more stably in the Swedish Bakery Workers' Union In the same year, Grönvall was elected as both secretary of the Stockholm Fine Bakers' Association, and vice chairman of the newly formed national union.

Five years later, in 1901, he left his positions of trust and moved to Bålsta where he ran his own bakery, built houses, rented out summer cottages and established a chicken farm. Despite changing private circumstances, however, he remained true to his convictions, maintaining that union success was a more important legacy than the private property he had managed to amass. In 1946 he wrote in his memoirs,

If I gave up working for the organization and only thought about my own business, I might be able to work together for a small amount of capital. But if I were to die quickly, perhaps this savings would soon be exhausted. And the consequence would then be that my children were forced to sell their labor. Then a strong workers' organization is a safer legacy for my children, for then they can no doubt sell their labor under more tolerable conditions than I once had to do..

— "En bageriarbetares minnen"[4]


  1. Sveriges dödbok 1860–2017 (in svenska) (Version 7.0 ed.), Solna: Sveriges släktforskarförbund, 2018, ISBN 9789188341310
  2. "Dödsfall". Dagens Nyheter. 8 December 1954. p. 24.
  3. Grönvall, Johan (1946), En bageriarbetares minnen
  4. Grönvall, Johan (1946), En bageriarbetares minnen [The memories of a bakery worker] (in svenska), p. 114

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