Austria: “No to Bush & Co.”

Mass protests against Bush visit to Vienna

George W. Bush, the so called "leader of the free world", made a visit to Austria (which currently holds the EU Presidency) to participate in the US-EU Summit. While he was welcomed by the Social Democrat President of Austria, Heinz Fischer, and the Austrian government, a coalition of the Conservatives and the far right, over 20,000 people went to the streets of Vienna on 21 June, to make clear that “Terrorist #1” is hardly welcome anywhere in the world. Actually, the real reason for the visit was not so much for the summit in Vienna, but rather the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian Uprising, which Bush used to to spread anti-communist propaganda.

Among the main issues discussed at the summit was Guantanamo, which Bush declared he wants to close (!), ‘The war on Terror’, human rights, the conflict in the Middle East, Iran (Vienna is the Headquarters of the IAEA, the UN Atomic Energy Agency), Russia, Belorussia, the Ukraine and Iraq, and economic issues, like Intellectual Property and “Product Piracy” etc.

But Bush was shown no welcome by protesters. As he left Austria, in ‘Air Force One’, at about 19 00hrs, the demonstration was still going on.

One million euro was spent on security for Bush’s visit, which is four times the 2005 spending by one district of Vienna for pensioners’ clubs, and six times the amount spent by such bodies on cultural youth activities and eight times on public swimming pools. The total cost of the Austrian EU Presidency is 100 million euro – as much as the tuition fees for about 300,000 students. The cost of the war in Iraq is, at least, one trillion US dollars. It is estimated, that amount of money could cover the subsistence of the entire world’s people for 12 years. As part of Bush’s European visit, food and drink was brought to the US military base in Rammstein, Germany. All this was paid for by the tax payers, i.e. the working class. Not surprisingly, anger towards the Bush-visit was widespread, with even many police in opposition.

About 2,000 school students participated in a student walkout on the morning of Bush’s visit. International Socialist Resistance (ISR) Austria and the Socialist Left Party (SLP/CWI) were amongst the organisers. We got messages of solidarity from the US and from Britain, which were read out at the demonstration. We brought out students from around 10 Viennese schools. The ISR block was not only loud and colourful; it also differed from the rest of the demonstration with its slogans. Most of us wore T-Shirts, in different colours, bearing the slogan, ‘No to Bush & Co.’, and, in our literature, we explained that it is not only the Bush-administration and US imperialism we are fighting, but also the Austrian government, with its anti-immigrant, anti-women and anti-workers policies, and against the capitalist system, in general. There were others protesting against Bush with banners saying, ‘Mr. Bush please save the planet: resign!’ and ‘Fuck Bush’.

Not enough to march

Our contingent chanted, "Black and White unite and fight" or "1-2-3-4 we don’t want your bloody war, 5-6-7-8 organise and demonstrate". It was important to show that it is not enough to march but that we need to build a strong international organisation to, "Fight the power! Smash the system! What we need is socialism".

At both the main demonstration and the students’ demonstration, we had a good contingent, with many people joining our bloc, and who agreed with our ideas. We distributed many flyers, inviting people to a public meeting the day after the protests, we sold many papers, as well as anti-capitalist T-Shirts, whistles and badges. As the growing hits on our website show, we spread our ideas amongst a broad layer of people. We can say that the reactions, in general, to our ideas, were very positive. Of course, with around 80% of people against the visit of George W. Bush, the starting point for our campaigning work was good.

We have to criticise the unions (which are facing their biggest crises at the moment) for not having taken action at all during Bush’s visit. As big parts of the economy did not really function because of the security measures for the Bush-visit, and big parts of the ruling class were hostile to his visit, a general strike or at least a day of action call by union leaders would have got a big response. The Social Democrats also stood aside from the protests (leaving their youth organisation on the demo). Only the Green Party mobilised.

The slogans and speeches of the co-organisers must also be criticised. While some burned US-flags, and shouted anti-American slogans, we made it clear that there is an anti-war movement against Bush in the US, and the US working class and immigrant workers are our allies, not our enemies. Referring to a poster that said, ‘Bush Go Home!’ a US couple said, “But we don’t want him to come home!” And that’s what most US citizens might feel.

While some of the groups at the demonstration uncritically supported Islamic organisations that have reactionary policies, programme and methods, used against the working class and its organisations, against women and immigrants.

None of the speakers at the final protest rally really criticised the Austrian president for meeting Bush, or the Austrian government and the EU for their social cuts and imperialist policy or even for their racism and participation/involvement in the Iraq war and occupation. While a certain anti-capitalist mood was indicated on some protest banners, it was only International Socialist Resistance (ISR) Austria and the Socialist Left Party (SLP/CWI) who really proposed a socialist alternative to capitalism. For many people, this was the first demonstration in their lives and the 20,000 that turned out was an extraordinary good figure for Austria. Therefore, it is a pity that so many organisations on the so called left missed this opportunity to spread the ideas of socialism amongst a broader layer of workers and youth. However, ISR and the CWI, in Austria, will keep campaigning. We collected many addresses of people interested in our socialist ideas, we have built school student committees, and, at the next protests, our contingent might be even bigger and our ideas will have won bigger support.

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June 2006