Austria: Strikes at Austrian Airlines

On Wednesday, 15 October, flying staff at Austrian Airlines struck for the fourth time in three months.

It was the second longest strike action they have taken (after the first 15 hour strike on the previous Saturday). The 12-hour action took place against the background of economic crisis, the 15th congress of the ÖGB (Austrian trade union federation) and a mood of increasing radicalization amongst workers.

Workers are coming under ferocious attacks; Rail workers and postal workers are threatened with privatisation and job losses (the government plans to cut 12,000 jobs at the ÖBB (Austrian Railways). Rail workers are eager to take strike action, but the trade union leadership so far has only called for a boycott of overtime work. Likewise, the steel works Voest were fully privatised in September, but the union leadership again failed to call for strike action.

Workers’ anger is mounting after the complete capitulation of the ÖGB leaders following the mass strikes against pension cuts in May and June this year. The struggle of “Austrian”, as the airline group (including AUA, Lauda Air, Austrian Arrows) is now called, is important for the development of class struggle in Austria. The AUA staff is the second group of workers after the Postbus drivers in 2002 to take strike action. The railway workers are now the most likely to follow. The AUA management represents the most hard-line wing of the ruling class. They reject the ÖGBs hopes for “social partnership” and compromise and use methods of intimidation, threatening to sack strikers and suing the union and individual strikers for the costs of the strike. The AUA flying staff’s answer to these bullyboy tactics has been to threaten open-ended strike action. 160 messages of solidarity were sent to the strikers by postal workers from all over Austria, workers’ representatives from Siemens and the Voest, the Postbus drivers union, etc.

The media and ruling class are leading a hate campaign against the flying staff. This completely ignores the hypocrisy of a management that grants itself higher pay from the money they cut back on the wages of their employees. The management collected 1,600 signatures against the strike from non-flying staff – this lack of support is the result of the management’s divide and rule tactics and the failure of the ÖGB leaders and union officials to counter these tactics. In the last few years the union representatives of the non-flying staff accepted huge cuts in wages. This led to a widening of the gap in wages. The management has threatened to cut jobs of non-flying staff if the pilots and cabin crew did not accept the management’s plans for a 35 percent cut in wages.

The union leadership has now put pressure on the AUA staff, thus postponing strike action for four weeks in favour of negotiations. The management had to withdraw its threats of sacking and delay suing strikers and the union. But it is it is clear that the struggle is not over yet, and not very likely that the negotiations will see the management give in on their demands to make cut backs. The lack of support from the ÖGB leadership is already causing distrust against the union amongst the AUA flying staff.

The Socialist Left Party (SLP – the CWI in Austria) gave full support to the strikers at AUA, participated in all strike activity and called for a joint day of strike action of all sections of the workforce that are attacked by the government and bosses.

The SLP helped launch a ‘Platform for fighting and democratic unions’, that brings together workers and shop stewards from the railways, the AUA staff, Postbus drivers and teachers. Given the shaky state of the right-wing coalition government – the FPÖ is down to eight percent in votes in the recent regional elections in Upper Austria and the Tyrol, and facing another election in Jorg Haider´s home base Carynthia in March – decisive joint strike action could even cause a collapse of the government.

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October 2003