International Women’s Day: Austria – Privatisation and social cuts affect women most

Fight the poverty trap!

On International Women´s Day, politicians of all colours will go out of their way to praise their “women friendly” programmes and policies. But poverty and dependency are still a reality for many women. According to an EU study, every fourth single woman is likely to live below the poverty line.

The capitalist parties hold press conferences and hand out flowers, probably mistaking International Women´s Day for Mother´s Day. They repeat the same empty phrases to hide their own politics:- “We have to reduce the gap in pay between men and women”, “Women must be enabled to both work and have a family” and “Women should be able to get promotion”. We hear these phrases every year, but nothing is changed fundamentally about the situation of women. On the contrary: the neo-liberal politics of the very same parties has worsened it. Social cuts and privatisation particularly affect women.

Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPO) and Austrian People´s Party (OVP): much ado about nothing

The reform of maternity benefits introduced by the SPO-Conservative grand coalition was supposed to be an improvement, but single mothers are still worse off. The general minimum wage that is planned by the same government excludes some low wage, women’s jobs. And the so-called “improvements” over part-time work in the agreement made by employers and trade unions on the flexibilisation of working hours will not really be improvements. There are so many conditions that it will hardly affect anyone, and where it does, it can lead to a worse situation than before; workers have to take longer lunch breaks to reduce overtime hours and avoid overtime pay. That can mean that, for example, a supermarket worker who has to commute for two hours to get to her workplace can now be forced to start work earlier and take a two hour unpaid lunch break to make up for it, all in all prolonging working hours in reality. Still, the government and trade unions are claiming they have improved the situation for women.

Part time jobs equal a poverty trap

More than 40% of all women workers are in part time jobs; in contrast, only 6.5% of all men work part-time. Why? There are not nearly enough child care facilities. We do not need an abstract “right to part-time work” which equals poverty for women, but a shortening of working hours with full compensation in pay, a real minimum wage and a right to a full time job.

The new regulations on care

Everybody has a right to grow old in dignity – theoretically. In reality that only goes for those who can afford it. The new regulations on care for the elderly that are planned by the Austrian government mean more unpaid work in the family for women and a deterioration in working conditions for those who work in these areas (a majority of whom are women).

How can the situation be really improved for those who are affected? The state should legally employ those elderly care workers who now work illegally and on low wages, with full social rights and decent pay. But this is not the solution that is presented by the government. Instead care workers are pseudo “legalised” by placing them in temporary, self-employed working conditions.

Those who need care still cannot afford it because the state does not pay for it, and the new regulations make it even more expensive. They will probably mean that the formerly illegal care workers lose their jobs and women have to take over, doing more unpaid work in the family.

Networking for elites or class struggle?

Petty-bourgeois and bourgeois neo-feminists present “networking” as a solution. That would mean that we only need to know the right networking women to find a job. Female networks as against male networks – is that really a solution? Individual women in leading management positions may gain from such arrangements, but what kind of network could a single mother secretary or supermarket worker build? They do not have rich influential female friends. The alternative for working class women means unionisation and working class struggle.

International Women´s Day – renew the struggle of working class women

The 8th of March is not about roses and pretty words. It is a day to commemorate women´s struggles for their rights. It is clear that our allies are not female bourgeois politicians like Angela Merkel, Hillary Clinton, Ursula Plassnik (People´s Party minister of foreign affairs in Austria) or Claudia Schmied (SPO minister of education). They are all responsible for policies that have worsened the situation of women workers. Who our allies are for conducting a fight for better pay, shorter working hours, sufficient child care and free care for the elderly is not a question of gender but a question of common interests. This is why the trade unions should use the 8th of March as a day to renew the struggle for shorter working hours, a living minimum wage and against social cuts – the issues that affect working class women most.

The trade unions in Austria must fight for:

  • A shortening of the working week to 30 hours
  • A minimum wage of €1,100 after taxes
  • Free childcare for every child
  • Free welfare assistance for everyone who needs it

These measures would do far more for working class women than all the pretty words we will hear over and over again.  

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