On Monday, 18 December, the third ‘black’ (the conservative Peoples’ Party - ÖVP), ‘blue’ (the far-right Freedom Party - FPÖ) government in Austria’s post-1945 second republic, was sworn in (for more information on the elections: http://www.socialistworld.net/index.php/international/europe/42-austria/9497-austrian-general-elections-more-than-just-a-shift-to-the-right).
The parties’ leaders, Kurz (Peoples Party) and Strache (Freedom Party), learnt from the government corruption fiasco of the 2000s. They consciously presented themselves as statesman-like, filled six ministerial posts with women and took the wishes of Green Party President, Van der Bellen, into account. However, all this does not change what this government really consists of. Amongst its ministers, the number of right-wing hate speakers, with roots in pan-German nationalist fraternities, is high. The government’s programme drips with racism and prejudice towards Muslims and refugees (for example, the issue of violence against women is located in the programme close to the chapter on “migration”).
New governments' programme: 180 pages of attacks wrapped in nice words
The black-blue government plans to get rid of achievements that are linked to the changes won by working people during the period of international radicalisation and mass movements after 1968.
In many places in the government’s programme there is talk about “Homeland”, “Identity” and “Values”. Christianity is to be given more scope in the state and its moral concepts are applied, for example, in the context of family and women’s rights to self-determination. In the universities, besides the plan to introduce tuition fees, the space for leftist, socio-critical policies is to be reduced. What they call “Austrian culture” is supposed to be encouraged and an “Austria-rate” (percentage of “Austrian” culture) in the media established. We can assume that in both cases the most progressive or left wing cultural and pro-workers aspects are not meant to be included.
But it is the economic and socio-political plans of the government are particularly frightening and challenging to working people. The government wants to disempower unions by allowing decisions, like the introduction of the twelve-hour working day to a workplace or even individual level. Youth shop stewards are to be abolished. A model for unemployed, similar to the German ‘Hartz IV’ model, is to be imposed, which means that longer-term unemployed workers will not get any financial support from the state, at all. Changes in work and tenancy laws will be at the expense of small-earners.
Big plans are announced with keywords like “de-bureaucratisation”, “lean state” and “tax reform”. They all point in the same direction: cuts in protective measures and services for employees the socially deprived and the money is used to finance gifts for companies.
Often the word “penalties” is used for those “unwilling to contribute”. Parents of pupils who skip school, migrants who are allegedly “unwilling to integrate” (at the same time, the new government states that the integration of refugees is not desired) or students who are too critical, are to be punished. In return, there is rearmament and militarisation.
These are just a few policies from the 180-page government programme. If bourgeois commentators complain that the programme is, in their terms, not bold enough, they overlook the fact that the new government aims to be cautious in the first four months of 2018 before four regional elections. The black-blue regional government in Upper Austria (in power since 2015) also held back from introducing many measures until after the October 2017 general election. The often vague wording of the new government’s programme also leaves a lot of room for brutal attacks on the working class.
This government will be confronted with resistance in a number of areas, including the public sector. Kurz is planning attacks on the public sector (which he cleverly will have Strache lead on, so he does not have to attack the Peoples Party’s base in this sector). There will also be centralisation measures of at various levels. And that means a weakening of the federal provinces and municipalities, which will not fit the interests of many Peoples Party politicians on these bodies. This is because these measures would mean less money to spread to ingratiate support and fewer positions to give to Peoples Party politicians friends. Conflicts are inevitable. Kurz’ s manoeuvres will not prevent opposition. Already a row on Strache’s facebook page, because of the 12-hour working day, gave the FPÖ a taste of the unpopularity they will generate from many amongst their electoral base with these neo-liberal attacks.
Obviously there is a clash between the FPÖ’s self-portrayal as the “social homeland party” and the reality of ‘belt-tightening measures’ (Hartz IV-style measures) and rising rents. In addition, the racist and misogynist ideologists in the FPÖ will demand measures that are not compatible with the wishes of big business. But Kickl (a FPÖ leader who is now Interior Minister) and Strache are finally in positions of power and not willing to leave those positions. Even if immediately there is not simply a repeat of the “Knittelfeld” crisis (the huge internal battle in 2002 within the then-governing FPÖ, which led to several ministers resigning and new elections) the FPÖ will face internal pressures.
But above all, Austria’s economic situation is only looking good on the surface. National economic growth is fragile and depends on international developments. The possibility for tax giveaways for large companies, which are planned in numbers of billions, is very limited. Austrian capitalism, some of whose representatives significantly participated in developing the government’s economic programme, has high expectations in lowering labour costs. The “new style” of a harmonious coming-together, which is presented by Strache and Kurz, will not last for long. Kurz, the bourgeoisie's bearer of hope, will probably lose his credibility as fast as other ‘new’ leaders in recent years (e.g. Macron and Trudeau).
Resistance is building
On the new government’s inauguration day, 6,000 to 10,000 people demonstrated in Vienna. On the previous Saturday, hundreds demonstrated in Graz, while on Monday there were also hundreds on the streets in Salzburg and about 2,000 protesting in the small city of Innsbruck, in Tyrol. Shortly before that, on several occasions, 2,000 to 4,000 went onto the streets of Linz to protest against the black-blue regional government of Upper Austria. Home-made placards, banners and a combative atmosphere characterized these protests. Many young women joined the movement. The government’s anti-social plans, like the 12 hour working day or tuition fees, are why many people turned out.
These protests have been compared by the media with the “resistance movement” in 2000. The reason why is to ridicule today’s protests. But in fact there were around 1,000 participated in a Vienna school students’ strike and protests of university students. The people on the streets were much more than just “the left”. Among the remarkable examples were the “grannies against black-blue” and many other “normal people”, who are – correctly – afraid of the new government and its policies.
Of course, the “resistance movement” of 2000 will not just repeat itself. While we want to build today a movement on the scale of 2000, it is also necessary to learn the lessons from the past. After all, the movement was not successful because it was limited to demonstrations and did not reach out to the trade unions, calling for and supporting working class activities. So if the “veterans” from 2000 join the demonstrations with their historic banners, it is necessary that they learn from the weaknesses of the past movement. It is important that those protests politicised an entire generation. This time, the big participation of youth at the protests is a very good starting point. Now it is necessary to organize. Many are looking for ideas and proposals on how to act. That is why discussions are important. Not for discussions’ sake but to develop a plan of how to stop the government, block its programme, and to discuss what is the alternative.
On 18 December the unions were painfully missing. On its homepage, the ÖGB (trade union federation) stated: “The ÖGB will not participate in the announced protest against the ÖVP-FPÖ-government. We will evaluate this [the new government], as seriously as always”, said the ÖGB-Chair Foglar. He expects that the “social partners” (meaning both the labour and employers organisations) will be invited and their arguments will be heard “because by that one can spare a lot of frictions”. This is an absurd position. The union leadership wants to wait for an invitation, and then (if they are invited) explain their point of view. But even if there is such a meeting these opinions will be widely ignored. And what will the union leaders then propose? The new government’s plans and goals are crystal clear. There is no time to waste. The unions have the responsibility to enlighten their members about the brutal outcome of the government’s programme, for example, in workplace meetings. And it is their responsibility to not only participate in protests, but to actively organize resistance. If the unions do not do this, many members will question their membership. Already many do not agree with Foglar, which is not only seen online, but mainly by the participation of trade unionists in the protests. The building of a combative trade-union-left is long overdue.
In the last election, disappointment with the right wing social democrats allowed the FPÖ to be the largest party amongst blue collar workers. The FPÖ’s participation in attacks on working people and the poor provides an opportunity to undermine it as a “false friend” of workers. For this, it is necessary to build and provide a genuine alternative that is offered to both this new government and the policies of the previous Social Democrat/Peoples Party coalitions.
A call has gone out a nationwide, large demonstration on 13 January. The task is to gather all different sectors of workers who are threatened by the government’s plans. It has to be a strong signal: the first step to organize resistance that can beat back the measures. We have to counter the brutal class war from above, with determined resistance from below.
We cannot rely on any of the establishment parties. This includes Van der Bellen (the Green Party member elected as President of Austria, last year), who inaugurated this new government, without criticising anything about it and he also played no role in the protests.
We need to organize committees against black-blue. Workers need to know the consequences of the government’s planned measures mean for all of us. Campaigns in schools, universities, workplaces, migrants and refugees, in the media, cultural, health and social and education sectors need to bring together and linked to trade unions. It is not the time to bury our heads in the sand or to withdraw into private life. Now is the time to organize. Together we are stronger, and we can build a political and social alternative to this government.