Compared with the high tide of open class struggle in 2003, 2004 has seen more limited strike actions, protests or, at most, rallies.
cwi international conference.
Reports from Austria and England and Wales presented to the 2004 meeting of the International Executive Committee (IEC) of the cwi, held in Belgium, 14 – 20 November.
Class struggle and the cwi in Europe
In 2003, more workers participated in strikes than in the whole post-Second World War period. Workers forced the union bureaucracy to go much further then they would have wanted, given their "Social Partnership" policy.
Struggles have included those in:- the airline industry (with Austrian Airlines having 5 strikes in 2003, one in 2004), the post bus services (an open conflict since 2002 with several strikes and work-place assemblies), a big energy company (a former state industry; rumours of take-over from Siemens); at the Telekom; in the social-services-sector in Vienna and in the banking sector (employers imposing a worsening of wage contracts) and, significantly, among Viennese bicycle couriers (the first struggle ever amongst ’precarious’ workers against their conditions). Also there was a campaign of railway workers from Upper Austria who independently collected signatures amongst a part of the workforce against the effect of a new wage contract on working time, a contract which the union agreed to. They gained a partial victory on their demands.
There are clearly important, although limited and not generalised, movements of workers in different areas. The defeats of the 2003 class battles against the pension "reform", and especially in the railways, nevertheless had negative effects.
The second wave of pension cuts did not see the same movement and pressures on the ÖGB (Austrian trade union federation) as in the Spring of 2003. Where a resigned mood is evident, it is linked to the lack of a fighting leadership and the role of the union bureaucrats. This lack of a ’subjective factor’ is a problem at all levels. What we see are slow and still weak, but growing, initiatives from below in the workplaces and in the trade unions, partially against the will of the individual union or ÖGB leaderships. (The pressure from the class is more direct on the individual unions than on the ÖGB as an umbrella organisation. But, up until now, the growing independence shown by sections of the individual unions are not on the basis of a clear fighting agenda.)
The federal government – conservative, far right Freedom Party ÖVP-FPÖ coalition – is attacking the health system, education (with in reality a minus budget), the unemployed and (again) pensions. Following the attacks on working time and conditions in Germany, this has also become an issue in Austria. On privatisation, the government was forced to be open to minor corrections. This was in view of the competing interests of different factions of the capitalist class but also due to the experiences of the resistance of the workers (e.g. the post bus services). It is a confirmation of the rotten role of the SPÖ, that they are for a more "efficient" way to privatise and that workers should buy or get shares.
Although anger is rising and there is a deep crisis for the Freedom Party, the government is still in power because of the lack of a clear oppostion force. The crisis of the FPÖ as a government party leads to a strenghtening of far right and fascist forces; they try to re-organise inside as well as outside the FPÖ. A split in the FPÖ is a possibility and could lead to an even more right wing party developing around the FPÖ Euro MP, Andreas Mölzer.
Despite some differences between the four main parties, the growing exchangeability between them is obvious. The Upper Austrian state government is made up of conservatives and Greens, while in Carinthia the SPÖ is supporting Haider`s Freedom Party. Vienna is governed by an SPÖ majority that makes the same neo-liberal attacks as the others. There are no initiatives for a new workers’ party or a pre-formation like the WASG in Germany. The "left" project of the CP (a very small party, but the biggest force on the left) is a disaster; the CP is itself heading towards split or collapse.
Alienation from the establishment has reached a new level. The EU elections showed the potential for a force that stands against the establishment. An ex-SPÖ MEP and famous author (of "Globalisation Trap") got 14%, just on the basis of "anti-corruption". But he also offers no alternative on an organisational level. The polarisation in society is growing. The potential for resistance will, at a certain point, lead to new big struggles.
Campaigns of the Party
Youth work: The anti-fascist and anti-racist work is getting more and more important. It was a conscious decision to make this the priority for our youth work since Autumn 2003. Violence by neo-nazis is rising country-wide; so is the potential for anti-fascism! The strength of a neo-fascist youth organisation (the BFJ) in Upper Austria led us to take the initiative for a 500 strong anti-fascist demonstration in Linz on October 9th. This was not only a success in itself. We won new members in Upper Austria. We have the possibility to form branches both of SWI (ISR) and the SLP.
This campaign, which had as its main slogan, "together against far right violence", included comrades from Vienna, Lower Austria and Salzburg going to Linz and also conducting activity in their home towns. Over the whole Summer, this was the top priority for the whole party. It was orientated to a town where we had only one member at the beginning of the campaign. It was a continuation of our conscious attempt to build outside Vienna. In Vienna the new effort to build ISR is linked to a new young leadership starting to lead the youth work. But there is a problem of having fewer school student comrades in Vienna. As the next steps for young activists we are offering discussions and seminars to convince them of a socialist approach to all the questions and that at the same time socialism is not a barrier for most of them.
Trade union work
The main field of work changed since 2003. Then we were working with the GLB – the officially recognised trade union fraction dominated by the CP which proved not to be a fighting alternative and also to be totally inefficient. We have turned to the ’Platform for fighting and democratic unions’. We set up the Platform initiative in 2003, at the time of the ÖGB congress, and got a huge response.
The decline in general class struggles since then has had its effects. On December 11, a re-launch meeting is planned. We are in contact with railway workers outside Vienna. In Vienna the social and health sector is very important because of the privatisation of social services by the SPÖ. In all the different struggles of the last years, as the only organisation of the left, we could build links with the best layers of workers. These are quite considerable now, given the size of the section and our lack of a proletarian base. Although we were not able to win them to the party, we are seen as a serious force. The next step is not only to be in contact with them but to integrate them into the Platform.
The court case by the leading anti-abortion activist against us was defeated again in the second (and last) round! Our success is an important victory and is recognised widely. The campaign, in its initial form, is over since the closure of the abortion clinic in Vienna. But the issue is gaining more importance also in the "higher spheres" of politics.
The female SPÖ head of the state government of Salzburg, despite being in coalition with the conservatives, has argued for the possibility of abortions in the main state-funded hospital in Salzburg – something that was not possible in the past. We are prepared to take up the possibilities for mobilisations on these issues.
Our membership composition is:- 40% female, 23 % school-students, 45 % students (majority have to work part-time), 32 % working), 32 % under the age of 20; 68 % between 20-35 years.
We have contact with people very interested in joining in Vienna, Salzburg and Linz.
We have had nine issues of our newspaper (8 pages) since the last IEC. Our last Congress was in June 2003. The next one is 15/16 January 2005.
England and Wales
We began the year with a national congress in the seaside resort of Skegness!
Two hundred and forty five attended, of whom 58 were youth. Although the overall attendance was similar to our previous, London-based, congress the fact that we were able to mobilise and raise the money to hold a three day residential congress on that scale was an indication of the progress we have made. More importantly there was an increased mood of confidence and determination at the congress. This was reflected in the financial appeal which raised £8,922.
We stood 48 candidates in 34 council wards on 10 June, we received 16,787 votes, in addition, 2,825 people voted for Socialist Party Councillor Ian Page in the London Assembly election constituency of Greenwich and Lewisham. This compares well to 2003, when thirty-one Socialist Party candidates received 7,814 votes in the local elections in England and Wales. This is largely accounted for by the excellent results we had in Coventry, where we gained 8,614 votes across the city, and succeeded in defending two of our three seats in St Michaels ward in very difficult circumstances. Even excluding Coventry our average vote increased across the country from 172 per candidate in 2003 to 291 per candidate in 2004. While this is modest it reflects the roots we are building and the increased potential for socialist ideas. The general election is likely to take place in May next year, and we are intending to stand around twenty candidates. We have recently launched an appeal for a ‘week’s income’ from every member to fund these candidates and also to encompass other finance needs next year such as the 2005 CWI appeal.
We have also had electoral success in the trade unions, particularly with the re-election of the left in the PCS (the civil servants’ union), including CWI member Janice Godrich re-winning the Presidency and the election of Socialist Party member, Chris Baugh, to the Assistant General Secretary’s position. We have also had successes in other unions including NEC elections in five unions and Martin-Powell Davis’ creditable result of 6,482 (12.5%).
In the largest union in Britain – Unison – Socialist Party member Roger Bannister is currently contesting the election for general secretary. This is the third time he has stood. Last time, he received 71,000 votes, 33% of the total.
However, in many ways our most important task in the trade unions at the present time is our orientation to the PCS. We play a key role in this union which is in the frontline of New Labour’s attacks on the public sector. Gordon Brown has announced 104,000 job losses. At the time of writing, 65% of the union have voted for a one day civil service strike, on a 42% turnout (very high by current standards in Britain). This strike is an important first step, but victory will require further action. Nationally the party has turned to PCS workplaces. We now have regular sales of The Socialist at more than one hundred offices. Some PCS members have already been recruited to party membership and a there is a significant layer of potential members.
Youth and student work
We now have an elected national youth and student committee which is playing an important role in directing the national youth work. Regular ISR activity is taking place in more than half the regions. However, it is our university work in Socialist Students which gives us the greatest potential for a breakthrough in the short term. In 2003/04 there were officially registered Socialist Student societies at 24 universities. In the first month of 2004/05 Socialist Students have got enough members to establish societies at 33 universities. More than 890 have joined Socialist Students; of whom well over 300 could soon join the party.
Politically, ’Socialism 2004’ was the best Socialism weekend we have held. However, we were unsatisfied with getting just over 350 – nowhere near our potential turnout. It came hard on the heels of the local elections, but we did not sufficiently prioritise it as a party. We have agreed that ‘Socialism 2005’ will take place in November – to allow us to take full advantage of the start of the university year. We are also planning to open with a national rally for which we will have a far larger mobilisation than we have previously achieved for our socialism events.
40th anniversary rallies
Our capacity to mobilise for party meetings is already improving. We have held a series of regional rallies to celebrate the 40th anniversary of our paper. They have all had good turnouts, but particularly in London – where nearly 200 attended (with £4000 fighting fund raised) – the largest meeting the London region has held for more than five years.
We are continuing to have a drive for subscriptions to the paper (paid by bank direct debit), with the current target being 250 new subscriptions by the end of the year.
European Social Forum
We had between 150 and 200 members intervening in the ESF – which included comrades from other European sections! We were almost alone in arguing for a socialist programme at the ESF. And while it was only a small minority at the ESF who were potential members of our party – we succeeding in reaching that layer. We collected over 150 names of people who are interested in joining the cwi. We also sold around 750 copies of The Socialist.
Recruitment and membership
In the first half of 2004 we recruited at a slower rate of growth than in 2003. This partly reflected the lack of any major struggles taking place. In the second half of the year there is the potential to make much faster progress and reach our target of 300 recruits in the second half of 2004.