The May Day demonstration in Austria still means a massive, traditional turnout organised by the Social Democratic party (SPÖ) and the trade unions. Like every year, even if the official figure of 120,000 is an exaggeration, there were thousands of people marching through Vienna with a strange combination of red flags and folk music played by brass bands. But this “First of May” was also very different.
“We are cleaning up” said the new chair of the ÖGB (TUC), Rudolf Hundsdorfer, to the crowd– but hardly anybody believed him. In the last few weeks the Austrian trade unions have tobogganed into their deepest crises since 1945. It came out that the trade union bank (BAWAG) was involved in high-risk speculation activities and the ÖGB lost a lot of property. Even the secret strike-fund was risked – and it may now be empty. All this was done outside even the far from democratic internal structures of the union.
Some days ago, the former president of the ÖGB was officially sacked by the new chair. The deep crisis of the social-democratic Trade Union Council also has a big effect on the SPÖ which sees its chances of winning the national elections this year seriously decreasing. Even the mood of the quite loyal part of the rank and file which participated on the May Day demonstration was reflected by a lot of booing during the speech of the new ÖGB chair, who is a quite typical and long-term “multi-functional” bureaucrat. 50,000 members have already left the ÖGB. In other sections of the membership and even in the apparatus it is quite clear that some kind of completely “new start” is being sought. From our experiences a lot of frustration is being experienced amongst workers and trade unionists at the moment.
A clear voice in difficult times
Astonishingly, the Socialist Left Party (CWI Austria) was the only left or socialist organisation which intervened on the trade union issue in the big “official” May Day demonstrations in Vienna and Linz. In Salzburg, where we also have a local organisation, we intervened in the ‘alternative’ demonstrations because the local Social Democratic party only organises a joint beer-drinking and chicken-eating event on this day!
In Vienna we had a big banner and stall with the slogan: “Militant and democratic: defending the ÖGB means changing it”. All our members in Austria were wearing T-shirts with this slogan, which was also the headline of our newspaper, ‘Forward’. The SLP members in Salzburg included in their intervention the issue of low-pay in the civil service; we are a leading part of a campaign about this in the city.
In Linz on this day we also organised a very good protest action against a rally for H.C. Strache – the new and even more right wing leader of the Freedom Party. In this difficult situation for the Austrian workers’ movement we sold a total of nearly 750 copies of our newspaper - the best score for ten years! In this issue of the paper we have announced that we will be standing in the coming general election…Another challenge for the Austrian section of the CWI!