The CBA struggle at Spotify traumatized him Henry Catalini Smith was previously uinion chairman at Spotify and fought to establish a CBA there. A struggle he never wants to take again. Photo: Julia Lindemalm

The CBA struggle at Spotify traumatized him

Spotify The concern that Sweden is heading towards the UK prompted the Briton Henry Catalini Smith to demand CBA at Spotify. Then he was laid off. – I will never get involved in any fight like that again.
Izabella Rosengren
15 feb 2024 | 10:58

It started the day after the last parliamentary election when it became clear that Sweden would have a conservative government. Henry Catalini Smith woke up with a pressure on his chest. He was afraid that Sweden would become like his home country, the United Kingdom, where individualism flourished and solidarity had long disappeared.

The panic led him to become a member of the Left Party, and a few days later, he attended his first party meeting.

– The thought of the same type of leadership that governed the United Kingdom taking over Sweden terrified me. The whole point of leaving my friends and family would have been in vain. I had seen how it went, and it went terribly. And the first thing they said at the Left Party meeting was that if we don’t have collective agreements at our workplace, we should try to fix it.

The day after the party meeting, Henry Catalini Smith contacted colleagues at Spotify who might be interested in working for a collective agreement. They started a chat group and went public with their ambitions a couple of days later.

The reaction from Spotify? Silence.

It was basically straight off the plane into the hot tub.

In January 2023, they announced that the group would start a union local, and a few weeks later, Henry Catalini Smith was elected chairman. The day after, Spotify dropped the bomb – they would cut staff and over a hundred people would be laid off.

Henry Catalini Smith was one of those affected and was offered a so-called ”buyout agreement”.

– It’s impossible to know if I was laid off because of my involvement in the collective agreement. It can’t be proven. Anyway, I said that I didn’t accept it and that I intended to stay.

Henry Catalini Smith left family and friends in the United Kingdom to seek a different society in Sweden. Photo: Julia Lindemalm.

Henry Catalini Smith grew up in Liverpool, but moved to Sweden in 2016 after getting a job as a software developer at Spotify. A dream job in a notoriously glamorous industry.

– It was basically straight off the plane into the hot tub. A few weeks after I started, they celebrated their 10th anniversary and rented the entire Tele2 arena. They raised a midsummer pole indoors that hundreds of people danced around. Money was spent, you could say.

In 2018, Henry Catalini Smith decided to move with his family to Malmö. Because Spotify did not allow remote work, he started at another company. But when Spotify introduced remote work in 2021, he quickly returned.

– It’s not a bad workplace really. Their benefits are fantastic and the camaraderie is very good. At least it was then. But when I declined the termination agreement in 2023, they had to find a new position for me and I eventually received an offer for a position in Stockholm.

The anxiety physically hurt, it was like waves of pain going through my body that left me completely empty.

Henry Catalini Smith turned to his trade union and said he was prepared to take it to court. He was supported by the union, and eventually the parties reached an agreement that involved continued remote work. Henry Catalini Smith describes the time between the termination and the new agreement as a nightmare.

– It felt like I was standing alone against this international monster company. How could it be possible to run a household with only one income, I mean, I was on parental leave. The anxiety physically hurt, it was like waves of pain going through my body that left me completely empty.

From: Liverpool. Been in Sweden since 2016.
Lives: Malmö, Sweden.
Family: Wife, two children, one cat.
Age: 37 years old.
Odd experience: When Henry Catalini Smith lived in Bristol, he developed a nuclear war video game. On a whiteboard in his apartment, he sketched out his idea and drew a picture of a globe with a nuclear bomb being fired from Russia. When the landlord (who conducted an unannounced inspection) saw the picture, he reported Henry Catalini Smith to the police. In panic, Henry Catalini Smith began a PR campaign to clear his name, and he was long known in the industry as the "nuclear bomb guy." The police never contacted him.

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The anxiety also affected the family. One afternoon, one of the children’s teachers asked if something had happened at home because the child seemed a bit down.

– That’s when I realized it was really bad. It’s possible that Spotify didn’t understand how bad their actions looked. It’s something I’ve learned, that companies often don’t understand how it looks on the other side of the power balance. They may have thought their actions were perfectly fine, but it traumatized me.

I just wanted to scream: Are you kidding me, we work together? I felt very lonely.

At his new position, Henry Catalini Smith continued his union work for the collective agreement. This time, Spotify acted by distributing leaflets to its employees about how a collective agreement would worsen their conditions.

”Spotify made me an unwanted person,” says Henry Catalini Smith today, at home in his apartment in Malmö. Photo: Julia Lindemalm.

This resulted in several colleagues distancing themselves from Henry Catalini Smith.

– I lost friends who chose the company’s side and who didn’t trust us. I just wanted to scream: Are you kidding me, we work together? I felt very lonely.

A few months later, the part of Spotify that Henry Catalini Smith worked on was to be sold back to its founders, and he was once again laid off.

This time, he chose to accept the termination agreement.

– I had invested so much of myself in this campaign, and the thought of having to leave without it being my choice was terrible. At the same time, it was a relief that it was over.

When he left, there was no farewell as usual. Instead, he spent his final days on various trade union events at Almedalen (also known as Politician’s Week, a time and place for political parties, companies and civil society to meet).

He had handed in his computer a few days earlier and then went on vacation.

– When I left, people were afraid to be associated with me. Spotify had made me an unwanted person, says Henry Catalini Smith.

I worked my ass off for Spotify and I got 50 000 volts through my body in return.

Today, Henry Catalini Smith works as a software engineer at a healthcare company. There is also no collective agreement there. But he won’t be fighting for collective agreements again.

– I will never get involved with that again, but I am happy to share my experiences. I worked my ass off for Spotify and I got 50 000 volts through my body in return. It was tough and it’s still tough. It feels like you’re still losing while they just keep on winning.

Today, Henry Catalini Smith works at a new workplace, which also lacks a collective agreement. Photo: Julia Lindemalm.

Paradoxically, he regrets nothing and he recommends everyone to get involved in trade union issues. If you’re a bit less intense than he was, hopefully, you’ll have less of a struggle, he says. And you should avoid timing it with mass layoffs within the company.

– I’m a person who wants things to happen immediately. I think having patience helps. People with short patience certainly get things done, but they burn out very quickly.

A few months ago, Spotify instigated yet another mass layoff. Even though he no longer works there, Henry Catalini Smith felt his pulse rise when he heard the news.

– I was surprised at how many people had to go, and my pulse didn’t calm down until lunchtime. There is still trauma left.

Izabella Rosengren
15 feb 2024 | 10:58
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Freelance journalist and writer

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