Mayday in Vienna means tens of thousands of Social Democrats marching from their districts to the city centre, where in front of the town hall the leadership of the party stands on the platform waving red handkerchiefs. This year, for the first time after 7 years in opposition, the Social Democratic Party holds the position of the Chancellor and leads a coalition government with the conservative Peoples' Party (ÖVP).
When the government was formed in January there was an unprecedented upheaval of the rank and file of the SP, led by the Socialist Youth. The main criticism was that the leadership of the SP, and in particular Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer, had sold out its whole election programme just to get into the government. The bourgeois call it an "ÖVP government with a red chancellor". Until now the conservatives have won all the political conflicts within the government and successfully prevented the implementation of any reforms proposed by the Social Democratic leadership.
In the meantime the protests have ebbed but there is still a lot of discontent. In particular there is still a strong critical mood within the trade unions and the Socialist Youth. It was clear that this May Day would be something like a barometer of the opinion within the Social Democracy. Compared to previous years, participation at this year's May Day march was much lower. Those who turned up were anything but enthusiastic. Many party activists were wearing buttons which said "stand up instead of toppling" referring to Gusenbauer's policy of caving in to the programme of the Conservatives.
However, critical voices were not allowed in all the district organisations of the SP. In Floridsdorf, there were even physical attacks against young comrades carrying a banner calling for an end to the coalition government. Drunken party activists wrested the banner away from the comrade, and when one of the young activists attempted to take it back he was attacked. The comrade suffered an injury to his right hand.
These young comrades were activists of the two branches of the Socialist Youth which were dissolved two weeks ago by right-wing elements within the Socialist Youth - with the support of some bureaucrats within the SP (see Stop the witch-hunt against Marxists in the Socialist Youth of Austria!). There was a real witch-hunt against these comrades in the last period and there can be no doubt that this created a political climate where some people even feel free to "solve" political differences by violence. Such methods are completely hostile to the best traditions of the labour movement and must be condemned by all party, trade union and youth activists.
The case of the dissolution of left-wing branches of the Socialist Youth has already created a lot of interest. Last Sunday the press and television reported on this political scandal. At May Day the supporters of Der Funke - the Marxist tendency of the Austrian labour movement - were selling their paper and collecting signatures against the dissolution of these two branches. Many party and trade union activists asked us if it was us who had been expelled and wanted to know more about the case. There was a lot of interest. When we explained the situation we received a lot of solidarity. Many shopstewards told us that they suffered similar attacks as a result of the same methods of the leadership. Among the supporters of our solidarity campaign are for example, Gerhard Fritz, leader of the postal workers, and Robert Wurm, a well-known shopsteward and symbol for a militant trade unionism in the movement.
The support for our ideas was also reflected in the paper sales and the donations we collected to finance our traditional weekend school at the end of May. In the next weeks this solidarity campaign will continue. It is our aim to build up enough pressure so that these two branches are again regular branches of the Socialist Youth. At the moment these comrades continue their work as "Socialist Youth (expelled)".