Austria: Rail workers rebel against their union leadership

At the end of April, the Austrian railway workers’ union (GdE) signed a deal with management on a new labour contract that included changes in work times and sick pay.

This agreement has the full support of Austria’s right-wing government. But the deal is seen as a huge defeat for the workers, especially by those who are working along the rail tracks and inside the trains.

On 1 May, some independent railway workers from the Upper Austria region began an initiative to bring together all those who want to fight this sell-out. These workers are in contact with both the ‘Platform for Fighting and Democratic Unions’ launched last year and with the Sozialistische Links Partei (SLP), the Austrian section of the CWI.

This initiative got incredible support. Over 80 attended a 13 May meeting in Linz, the capital of Upper Austria, with some workers standing for nearly three hours in the crowded room to listen to the lively debate.

The GdE bureaucracy were alarmed by the response this initiative immediately gained and sent some of its leading figures to try to calm the situation. But the mood amongst the workers was clearly for open confrontation with the leadership, which is dominated by the ‘social democratic’ trade union faction (FSG). There were even calls for the formation of a new fighting union, especially for workers working outside on the tracks.

An important issue was the GdE leadership’s calling off of last year’s strike, which was carried out in an undemocratic manner. This opened the door to big set-backs for railway workers and gave back some ‘credibility’ to the government.

We argued for a further meeting to be called on an all-Austrian basis to further develop an alternative and a fight back. It is necessary to involve workers currently belonging to the different party union factions and those who decided to leave the union.

This development is of big importance for the whole trade union movement. It shows how workers will draw conclusions from their experiences and come into opposition to the Social Democrat party, especially if it is returned to power, as it is responsible for the catastrophic policies of the union leadership and their de-facto acceptance of neo-liberalism.

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May 2004