Railway workers strike in Austria

Today the railworkers' union, GdE organised a 12-hour strike against the plans of the right-wing government to split the Austrian Railways into different units which has to be seen as a major step towards the privatisation of the railways.

Today the railworkers' union, GdE organised a 12-hour strike against the plans of the right-wing government to split the Austrian Railways (ÖBB) into different units which has to be seen as a major step towards the privatisation of the railways. Moreover the new "reform" is an open attack against the railway workers' union. The government wants to destroy 12,000 jobs on the railways. The plans include the formation of a new enterprise through which thousands of railway workers would be transformed into cheap temporary workers for private industry. The rest of the railway workers are threatened with a worsening of their working conditions and social benefits (sick leave, holidays etc.).

By restructuring the railways the government is trying to strike a real blow at the Austrian labour movement. If they manage to defeat this traditional stronghold of the working class (nearly every railway worker is a member of the GdE, and the Social Democrats won the last union elections with more than ¾ of the votes) this would mean a blank cheque for the government to continue its attacks on the whole labour movement.

Already at the congress of the Austrian Trade Union Federation (ÖGB) two weeks ago, one could see and sense the strong feelings of solidarity in the whole movement for the cause of the railway workers. The metal workers' union has already taken the decision to support the struggle of the railway workers. The postal drivers have decided not to scab and on Thursday they will take the decision to strike alongside their comrades on the railways. There are also some indications that other sectors of the working class (for example public transport in Vienna) will go on strike if the railway workers' union calls for a second strike.

For now there are no signs of agreement between the union leaders and the government. The union leadership is prepared to make big concessions to the government. In reality they have already accepted the plans of the government but they wish to participate in working out these "reforms". They are mainly interested in protecting their traditionally strong positions within the railways where in the past nothing could be decided without the union's approval. Till now their protest has been very soft. In August they called a conference of all shop stewards to decide on an overtime ban. At the conference they then said they wanted to try once again to have negotiations with the government. Only when these failed - because the government was not prepared to make any concessions - did the union leaders call for the overtime ban. However, this "struggle" had no effect at all. Most railway workers need the money from overtime work because their wages are quite low. But it would be wrong to draw the conclusion that this was evidence that the rank and file was not willing to struggle. On the contrary, it was only due to the enormous pressure from below that the union leadership in the end decided to call at least a 12-hour strike. Even the president of the union, Wilhelm Haberzettl, said in an interview that the rank and file is prepared for an indefinite strike until victory is achieved.

Today's strike was 100% solid. More than 4,000 trains and busses were affected. However, the government has already declared that it still going ahead with the "reform". Next Tuesday the government will take the final decision. The GdE will probably call for another one-day strike. This time it will be a 24-hour strike. In any case, even this will not be enough. The Marxists are therefore proposing an indefinite strike of the whole railway sector. The union leadership obviously does not dare to go down this road at the moment. They still hope to return to the negotiating table. However, this perspective is an absolute illusion. According to the government there have already been enough consultations and negotiations. Of course, there will be some more talks, but they will be simply tactical manoeuvres on the part of the bourgeois.

It's up to the rank and file, the shop stewards and union activists in the workplaces, to build up enough pressure within the union to give their leaders the strength they need to call for a massive struggle. An indefinite strike is the only way to defeat the government. The leadership of the ÖGB now has the duty to support the railway workers not only in words but also in deeds. The best way is to spread the movement and to organise strike action also in other sectors.

For an indefinite railway workers strike against privatisation!