Austria: Workers take action against pension ‘reforms’

Tuesday, 6 May, was a historic day for Austria. For the first time in decades the Ã-GB (Austrian trade union federation) called for a national day of action, including strikes. According to the Ã-GB about 500,000 workers participated all over Austria in about 10,000 activities, such as workplace meetings, rallies, strikes, blockades and demonstrations.

The reason for this action was the plan of the government for a pension "reform" which, if implemented, cuts pensions by 30% to 50 %. The only ones gaining from this reform would be the private pensions market.

After a long period, during which the Ã-GB was proud of taking no strike action, this marked an important turning point. Public transport workers struck in most big cities. Workers struck in the garbage collection, the unemployment offices, and so did the printers of major daily papers (so there was no dailies on Tuesday). High school teachers also struck.

The workers from parts of the ex-nationalised chemical and steel industries in Linz met in the workplaces for big rallies, as did as the employees from social and pension insurance.

The list of those that took strike action is incomplete as there is only a very general report from the Ã-GB. This approach has been a problem during the whole campaign. For example, most striking workers were only informed briefly before the strikes actually took place, as the unions argued that the bosses should not know in advance.

Several demonstrations took place all over Austria, including school student demos in Vienna and Salzburg. Young student nurses danced to hip hop music against the pension plans! Unfortunately the Ã-GB did not call for one big unified demonstration in each area but told striking workers to stay in their workplaces. However in Salzburg 10,000 demonstrated.

"Action not enough"

Wherever members of the SLP (CWI-Austria) spoke to striking, demonstrating and rallying white and blue collar workers, the same comment was made to them: "This action is not enough". SLP members sold papers in Linz, Salzburg and Vienna.

An SLP speaker expressing solidarity at a meeting of striking tram drivers in Favoriten, Vienna’s biggest working class district called for a 24-hour-general strike and got a good response. This also occurred elsewhere. Although 100,000s were affected because of the strike of bus and tram drivers on 6 May, this was not a general strike

Recent opinion polls show 62 % support for the strike, which illustrates that everybody see that he or she will be affected by the pension cuts. The Social Democratic Party and the Greens supported the strike but also said there is a "necessity" for changes in the pensions and for these to be made a little more "social".

On 13 May, the Ã-GB is calling for a big demonstration in Vienna and then further activities (but they are not more precise on this) for every Thursday if the changes are passed by parliament on 4 June. The SLP is demanding and campaigning for a 24-hour general strike as a first warning to the ruling parties, and further strike action, if necessary, to stop the reform, and also to bring down the government that wants to push through these attacks.

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May 2003