Austria: Railway strike challenges government

The current strike of the Austrian Railways is challenging the right wing coalition government.

The government’s decision this week to go ahead with privatising the railways, to attack what they call the “privileges” of the railway workers, cut 25% of the jobs and severely weaken the union has provoked the nearly 50,000 strong workforce. This second strike, after a 12 hour strike on November 4, started at midnight Tuesday and it is not clear yet if it will continue over the weekend or start again on Monday, November 17. It is possible that the workers will allow passenger trains to run over the weekend. Haberzettl, the leader of the GDE railway-union, spoke on Wednesday of an "indefinite warning strike".

The last 36 hours have seen a slight change in the media approach towards the strike. Alongside a hate campaign against the workers and union the media asks how long this government will last. The strike has widespread public support and the pressure from companies hit by the strike is growing. Chancellor Schüssel (ÖVP, the conservatives) and Vice-Chancellor Gorbach (from the far-right FPÖ) could be seen as having lost control of the situation if the strike remains solid over the next week.

The leader of the SPÖ (social democratic party) despite fully backing the strike, is talking about the "need to ’reform’" in the same language as the government. Under the SPÖ-dominated governments between 1993 and 2000 16,000 jobs were lost in the railways.

The union leadership is under huge pressure not to lower or stop the resistance as the ÖGB (trade union federation) leadership bureaucracy did in June after a one million strong strike against pension cuts. Even other unions inside the ÖGB have announced solidarity action next week. A call for a big demo on November 22 has been launched.

The SLP (CWI in Austria) fully supports the strike action and is organising support rallies. SLP leaflets and the party’s paper are getting very good response in Vienna, Upper Austria and Salzburg. In the next days we will hold a meeting with railway workers attending. Our main demand from the beginning was that the ÖGB mobilise workers from different sectors to fully support for the railway workers. This battle concerns the future of the union.

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November 2003