14N in Austria – Trade union leaders are not up to the tasks

While in many countries the call by the ETUC for an European-wide day of action against austerity and in solidarity with the Greek people led to significant protests and even strike action, the Austrian TUC (ÖGB) did not take up this initiative in a serious way. For weeks it has not been clear whether the ÖGB is going to answer this call at all. Eventually, just one week before 14N, the website of the ÖGB published an article where a collection of signatures in Vienna was announced.

The declared aim of this action was that people should get the possibility to sign postcards in solidarity with the Greek people which would be sent to the Greek trade union confederations. The choice of this type of activity was criticised by many people considering that in other countries general strikes were announced to take place on that day.

The storm of protests pushed the ÖGB campaign department to have second thoughts on their idea and they decided to call for a “flashmob” in the centre of Vienna instead. At lunch time on November 14, people in Vienna should come together and join a Sirtaki dance in solidarity with the Greek people. The risible character of this activity requires no further comment and didn't represent an incentive for ordinary Austrian workers to get involved. Some 200 people turned up at this flashmob action, but they were mainly trade union officials and some left wing activists. The whole thing was over in 15 minutes. No political speeches, no political material on the crisis was distributed. A comrade of Greek origin nearly cried because of her disappointed about this form of “solidarity”.

In the evening the comrades of the Marxist tendency around the paper “Der Funke” together with other groups of the radical left called for a rally in front of the Austrian National Bank. More than 100 people, mainly youth, turned up. In this rally a clear political message was given against the austerity programme that are imposed upon the workers of Europe. A "Der Funke" representative of Greek origins, Sandro, gave an anticapitalist perspective and mentioned in his speech the need to organise SYRIZA as a party with a clear revolutionary programme. This rally was regarded by participants as a kick-start for a broader solidarity campaign with the Greek labour movement.

In Innsbruck only the ÖGB actively supported a rally of left wing activists in solidarity with the European strike movements. Some 200 people attended, which is a good turnout for this region. After the rally in Vienna “Der Funke” organised a public meeting about the significance of 14N with some 30 people present. We discussed via Skype with comrades from Greece and Italy who gave reports of the mobilisations during the day and about the general perspectives of the class struggle in their countries. In the public were several young people from Spain and Portugal who then contributed to the discussion conveying the mood in their countries and their willingness to fight austerity and for a better future. 

The important question was also raised of when such mass protests would start in Austria. Speakers from the Editorial Board of “Der Funke” answered by outlining in what way the class struggle is currently developing in Austria. We have just witnessed in the past months the conflict in the metal industry to defend the collective bargaining agreements attacked by the bosses. We have now the protests against wage restraint imposed on the public sector workers. For example on 14N the hospital workers in Salzburg organised workplace assemblies to discuss about future protests against the measures. It is our task to build a strong militant tendency in the trade unions which can transform them into fighting, class-based organisations. It is only a question of time until the crisis will unfold also in Austria and heavy attacks on our living standards will be carried out by the ruling class and inevitably the workers will have to fight back and look within the trade unions and the labour movement for a militant and political alternative against the crisis and the system that generated it: capitalism. We have to prepare our forces for this scenario.