Austria: Return of the “Blue-Black” coalition

The re-formation of the coalition government between the People’s Party (ÖVP) and the far right Freedom Party (FPÖ) will leave many people in Austria angry, demotivated or frustrated. The fact that any other government coalition of the existing parliamentary parties would have pursued a neo-liberalist and racist policy is obvious, but will be of no comfort and only underlines the lack of perspectives and alternatives for working class and young people if they rely on the bourgeois parties.

The commentary carried below is a translation of a statement by Sozialistiche LinksPartei (SLP) on the formation of a new government in Austria, made up of previous coalition partners, the People’s Party (ÖVP) and the far right Freedom Party (FPÖ). This commentary was first issued on 24 Ferbuary 2003. CWI online

Return of the "Blue-Black" coalition

How can we fight the attacks of a new black-blue government on ordinary working class people? A resistance movement as in the year 2000, when thousands went on the streets to demonstrate against the government, is not likely to immediately develop, mainly because of the failure of the trade union leadership to take action in 2000. If a new movement against the government evolves, it will be around social and economic issues such as privatisation and attacks on the welfare state. It is vital that such a movement will not be restricted to demonstrations, but that it will also involve struggles in workplaces and strike action by the unions as well as the formation of a political alternative, a new party of youth and working class people. On an international level the movement against the war on Iraq will also be part of this struggle.

The SLP wrote in its statement on the elections result in November 2002:"Because of the Freedoms Party’s instability and its opposition against the EU-enlargement a considerable part of the Austrian ruling class does not wish a new coalition with the Freedom Party. A grand coalition of the ÖVP and Social Democrats (SPÖ), as well as a coalition between the Greens and the People’s Party, is possible results of the negotiations. Any of these options will resort to neo-liberalism and attacks on the working class, especially under the impression of worldwide economic problems. Yet, experience of 1999/2000 teaches us that an exact prediction of events is not possible." In effect, the representatives of the industry and big business swung back to their preference of the Freedom Party as a coalition partner for the People’s Party. Likewise, the role of chancellor Schüssel played an important part in reintroducing the Freedom Party as the preferred partner because they would bring propose hardly any conditions during the coalition negotiations.

No real alternative

Both the Social Democrats and the Greens were not capable of putting an end to the "black-blue experiment". Their eagerness to go into coalition with the People’s Party as well as their willingness to support the People’s Party’s open neo-liberalism underlines this inability of providing an alternative. The fostering of illusions in the Social Democrats and the Greens by parts of the left inside the resistance movement turned out to be nothing but a dead end. By agreeing to participate in negotiations for a coalition with the conservatives, the Greens lost their innocence and their "left" image. Although both Social Democrats and Greens kept silent on the content of their rival negotiations with the ÖVP, it was clear that both basically agreed on the questions of "budget stabilisation" and attacks on the welfare state and working class people. A result of this is that the formation of new organisations will be part of the coming social and political struggles. Activists in movements against social cuts, war and capitalism can play a vital role in founding this force. This also includes the struggle inside the unions to build an opposition against the fatal direction of the right wing leadership. The chains between the unions and the Social Democrats have to be broken. The SLP will support all efforts to build a new workers’ party and will continue to fight for a genuine socialist programme.

As was to be expected the People’s Party enforced its drive to open neo-liberalism, forcing even the bourgeois media to speak of "social cruelties" concerning the plans for the new government. As shown in the latest polls only 28 % of the Austrian population are in favour of a continuation of the policy of the last government. The coalition programme suggested by the People’s Party are a declaration of class war on working people, unemployed, immigrants and women. Fiedler, chair of the National Auditing Court, demanded at the end of February a "decisive and definitive" consolidation of budget as well as severe cuts in the health service, up to 2.9 million euro. The People’s Party’s minister for trade and industry, Martin Bartenstein, speaks of cutting 30 000 civil service jobs.

The acceptance, in the public debate, of the government’s lies concerning the pensions system is one of the outcomes of the policies of the Social Democrats and Greens, both having supported these ideas in the past. The bourgeois propaganda suggests that it is the "ageing of the population" that makes the present financing of the pensions system unworkable. We have to oppose this idea. These lies are aimed at covering up the interest of the ruling class in a privatised pensions system – using the vast amounts of money involved in people’s pensions for speculation in the stock market. A privatised pensions system will have fatal consequences for the working class, as can be seen in countries in which a private pensions system is already prevails – in the USA for example the collapse of Enron meant a disaster for large parts of the working class whose money was involved in shares of the company. It is big business’ profits from the increase in productivity that should provide money for people’s pensions.

Privatisation plans

Schüssel’s plans for privatising railway and postal services as well as the investments of the ÖIAG state holing company will have disastrous effects for working people. The disastrous conditions of both privatised railway services and the transport system in Britain are warning. In Vienna the Social Democrats plans for restructuring are not different, and are part of the social cuts. For a 24 hours /general strike to defend the public sector- no to privatisation and cutting jobs in public, postal and railway services or the ÖIAG!

Changes in unemployment benefit could have disastrous effects – we may see the first wave of people without any benefit since the interwar period. Unemployed people (300,000 this winter!) can be increasingly forced to take on jobs they don’t want. "Flexibilisation", casual work and part-time jobs will be used as the way to solve the unemployment dilemma for the bourgeois. The class character of the government is most obvious in its unashamed plans to 100% subsidise companies’ and employers’ expenditure on wages and financing this by demanding "solidarity fees" from working people (up to 400 million euro per year!).

The racist policy of interior minister Strasser will be continued as well as the extension of state repression. The nomination of extreme right Burschenschaft (the extreme right wing student bodies) member Friedrich Stefan for the university council in Vienna is another part of the government’s policy on shifting the institutions to the right. The announcement by Human Life International’s fundamentalist anti-abortionists to enforce their activities has to be seen in connection to the "new" government.

The government’s plans, as they have been reported so far, are a continuation of the neo-liberalist policy of both the previous governments, the grand coalition between SPÖ and ÖVP (from 1987 until 1999) and the 2000 to 2002 FPÖ-ÖVP one. They are part of the international drive of capitalism to get rid of the "welfare state" and trade union rights, in a situation of deepening economic crisis that leaves the ruling class less room to manoeuvre. As soon as the government feels consolidated attacks on the basics of the trade union movement such as the collective wage agreements (Kollektivverträge) will be reinforced. The ÖGB (trade union federation) has to take its memberships demands for strike action seriously. Whether or not the government sticks to its "Budget-Nulldefizit" plans (Schüssel: "we don’t have to slavishly stick to the zero-deficit plans"): The struggle against neo-liberalism needs an anti-capitalist and, even more, a socialist standpoint.

War against Iraq, its effects on world economy and the political situation in Europe will enforce further destabilisation. Several times, Schüssel has announced that it is the strategic aim of the Austrian ruling class to join a military union – they have directly or indirectly participated in the crimes of imperialism: they have supported the sanctions on Iraq and sent troops to UN-intervention on the Balkans. The so-called "Beistandsverpflichtung" ("Duty to help") policy will sooner or later lead to active participation of Austrian troops in war, in some way or another. This perspective, and being confronted with the massive protests against the war on Iraq on Feb 15, contributed to the Greens’ retreat from their negotiations with the People’s Party. The issue of the war and the governments plans on militarisation, together with attacks on the welfare state, privatisation of ÖIAG, railway and postal services and the implementation of the GATS (privatisation of public services), will lead to further polarisation of society.

Chirac’s frontal attacks on the eastern European EU-candidates (Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary) in his position as representative of the interests of the French capitalist class, reflects the growing instability of world relations. The Austrian ruling class will, like Germany, try to increase its influence in Eastern Europe by the means of EU-enlargement. The FPÖ will, for populist reasons, sooner or later oppose this enlargement. This issue as well as the question of taxes – the FPÖ demands lower taxes for the lower paid electoral reasons – can lead to the collapse of the government sooner than expected and a final end to the FPÖ in the current form.

A split in the FPÖ was only postponed. The weakening of the FPÖ on an electoral level is contrasted by a strengthening of its extreme right wing. Haider tries to draw from the division in the FPÖ by blaming Grasser, who had left the FPÖ and joined the People’s Party cabinet as an "independent" minister of finance, for imposing neo-liberal attacks on the FPÖ’s voters. But the contradictions within the far right populist FPÖ – populist in speech, neo-liberal in action – will break up again, sooner than in cabinet Schüssel mark I.

"Struggles of the working class (on attacks on pensions and the public sector, Privatisation) and of young people (on education, anti-racism, anti-war movement) will play a more important role in Austrian politics as they have in the past" (SLP statement on the elections result, 25 November 2002). Movements and struggles against neo-liberalism and Schüssel’s government, quite unlike the movement in 2000, will evolve more and more around social and economic issues. The moral outcry about the FPÖ’s participation in the government has now given way to disillusionment. The reasons are to be found in the failure of the trade union leadership to take organised strike action and to link up the movement to social issues as well as the weaknesses of the widerstand (Resistance) movement of 2000, since no organised alternative has evolved out of it. The price for the trade union leadership’s policy of "cooperation" with the government, only occasionally raising a warning finger to cover up its unwillingness to fight, is a high one. Only national and co-orientated struggles, including strike actions, can prevent further cuts and force the government to take back the measures that have already been implemented.

The SLP stood in the general elections in November 2002 in Vienna. Our Slogan was "Voting is not enough. Build a socialist alternative!" Join the SLP and the CWI in building the movement against the war, in fighting cuts and privatisation and in providing future struggles with a clear socialist programme and the perspective of a way out of the capitalist dilemma.

Translated by Laura Rafetseder, SLP

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March 2003