cwi: international conference – Anti-war and anti-capitalism in Austria and Belgium

Building the CWI in Austria and Belgium in 2003.

cwi international conference.

Niall Mulholland gives highlights of the campaigns of cwi sections during 2003. The report is taken from written contributions from cwi sections that were presented to the 21-26 November meeting of the International Executive Committee (IEC) of the cwi, held in Belgium. cwi online

Niall Mulholland gives highlights of the campaigns of cwi sections during 2003. The report is taken from written contributions from cwi sections that were presented to the 21-26 November meeting of the International Executive Committee (IEC) of the cwi, held in Belgium. cwi online

Anti-war and anti-capitalism

Austria

The year 2000 saw general discontent with the formation of a coalition rightwing government. In the last two years, the working class has engaged in struggles. Strikes are back on the agenda. There were two strikes of postal services workers and bus workers and teachers in 2002. This year there were two big strikes (May 6 and June 3) against the pension cuts, organised by the ÖGB (Austrian Trade Union Federation); with the second involving about a third of the labour force in strike action. There were also four strikes by the cockpit and cabin staff of Austrian Airlines and a 12-hour strike at the railways.

There is increasing pressure from the union rank and file on to the leadership to step up action.

The right-wing coalition of the conservative ÖVP and far right FPÖ – although in its second term – is potentially very weak. The FPÖ is its weakest link, changing its ministers, chairman and vice-chancellor again and again, as it is trying to be both a “reliable partner”, as well as a populist opposition, at the same time. But the ÖVP has also suffered setbacks, losing elections and its reputation.

The opposition social democratic SPÖ is winning elections, but not because workers have illusions in them. They are seen as “the lesser evil”. The fact that the right-wing coalition is still in power is mainly due to the half-hearted strikes by the ÖGB and the lack of a real alternative on the electoral field.

The main activity of the SLP (CWI in Austria), after standing in the general elections in Vienna in 2002, was our participation in the anti-war movement, into the awakening labour-movement and our campaign over abortion rights.

We took the initiative for the school student strike on Day X (the day the Iraq war started) – which brought up to 10,000 youth onto the streets.

During the strikes we put forward the call for a one day general strike as a first ‘warning’ strike, and for a united one day strike of the different sectors under attack. These demands were warmly agreed to by the workers

Due to the growing anger of the union rank and file over the leadership’s role, we started an initiative for a ‘Platform for a Fighting and Democratic Trade Union’. At the founding congress there were up to 60 people, including shop stewards and workers from Vienna and other parts of Austria. It was a great success.

We continued our campaign against the anti-abortionists and scored two successes: First, in the community hospitals in Vienna the SPÖ had to reduce the prices for abortions because of our campaign (although, practically, it is quite difficult to have an abortion in these institutions. Secondly, we won a court battle against the anti-abortionists. The judge harshly criticised the methods employed by them. However, there will be a second hearing later.

Belgium

The anti-war movement, the federal elections in May and the struggle against the “restructuring” of the Ford Genk plant, were the most important developments this year for the MAS/LSP (CWI in Belgium). Through campaigning on these issues, we strengthened the party in numbers, education and organisational structures.

During the anti-war movement we participated in two campaigns.

One mainly consisted of NGO’s, and was supported by the Greens, Social Democracy and the main unions. Its programme was very weak, including a call for UN intervention.

The other campaign, “Stop USA”, although it put forward a better programme, it took a sympathetic attitude towards the Saddam regime.

We participated in these campaigns with our programme and demands, linking up the anti-war movement with the struggle of workers against cuts in social services.

Throughout the anti-war movement, we sold hundreds of papers and thousands of our stickers.

Federal elections

For the first time ever, we participated on an all-Flemish level in Federal elections and also for the first time under the name LSP. We also stood on a joint list in the Francophone areas of Brussels, Henaut and Liège.

Our aims were to popularise the name LSP, strengthen our branches, to make inroads into new areas, and to consolidate the members we won in the anti-war movement.

We recruited new members directly from the election. We set up new branches in two new areas in Flanders and a new Francophone branch in Mons (capital of Henaut). We created the basis for re-strengthening the work in the province of West Flanders. In terms of votes we got 8.300 or 0.2%. We aim to stand again in elections next June, as LSP in the Flemish area, and probably as MAS in the Walloon area. By June, we had a lot of new members.

We ran a summer weekend socialist school, a summer camp, with 60 attending, and about 70 members attended the CWI European Summer School.

We also started a youth campaign around anti-militarism, anti-racism and anti-capitalism.

We now have regular national meetings of school students and similar meetings for students. ALS-EGA, our students’ wing, is active in all, but one, of the main universities. In many universities ALS-EGA is the biggest and most influential of the left students’ organisations.

Ford Genk

1 October, saw Ford (the biggest private employer after Sabena) announced its intention to reduce its workforce in Genk from 8,400 to 5,400. At the same time it was clear that the future of the site was only guaranteed until 2006. Limited strikes broke out, and rank and file pressure finally forced the trade unions to organise a demo, actually more a funeral procession, on 18 October. We participated on the picket lines and at the demo. About 90 comrades sold 120 issues of our paper and distributed 2,500 leaflets. We also distributed leaflets at the three remaining car factories: Volvo in Gent, General Motors in Antwerp, and Volkswagen in Vorst (near Brussels).

Probably half the membership have been members for less than 2 years. Growth is not the major problem facing us. Membership and education are the main areas we focus on.

We’ve started to recruit more women, especially young women.

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