Austria: health before profits! Statement by Der Funke editorial team on the coronavirus crisis

Europe is facing its greatest emergency since World War II. It is important that we follow the requests of the health authorities and physically isolate ourselves. We support this measure in content and practice. But we are on the side of working people. Our programme represents the practical will and the social interests of those who keep this country running, even in times of crisis. We sharply criticise the managers and bosses, who even now continue to force workers to do non-essential work.

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We also criticise the Austrian federal government, which has systematically promoted and continues to promote selfish profit interests in the past few days, through a policy of “half measures”. We appeal to the politically conscious sections of the working class to organise collective resistance in their workplaces against the policies of irresponsible bosses. We, the workers, have to organise the necessary safety and sanitary measures. Unnecessary production and services should be shut down by the workers themselves.

We particularly extend our solidarity to health workers, who have been working in poor conditions for years and are now equipped with completely inadequate resources to care for the sick. Despite this, they continue to work selflessly. "We are sent to the front with blank cartridges," wrote one health worker. We answer: you are heroes! Our gratitude has nothing in common with the empty words of the employers and the politicians. We promise to do our best to improve your working conditions.

Military conscripts are now being drafted to help manage the impending health emergency. We appeal to the people that have been drafted to comply swiftly and to register voluntarily to help combat the disaster. We also appeal to health professionals who have quit their jobs in recent years and are still fit for work to register as volunteers. We demand that the social and democratic rights of these volunteers are fully guaranteed and that they receive payment appropriate to their post.

To cope with this crisis, we need to maintain supplies and public order. We are in a particularly critical situation, due to the lack of necessary medical and sanitary supplies. The profit interest, patent laws, price speculation and nationalist conflicts hinder the mass production and distribution of the necessary material. This is especially the case with rapid COVID-19 testing kits, of which there is a worldwide shortage. This problem will quickly spread to a large number of other sanitary, medicinal and medical-technical products.

We therefore appeal:

  • To all scientists and technicians to publicly distribute the formulas, manufacturing instructions and the technical specifications of sanitary and medically necessary material on the internet. This applies in particular to the recently developed rapid testing kits for the detection of coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), all medications that are used to treat the disease, all medical-technical equipment that is needed for life-sustaining intensive care, hospital beds and all protective material (disinfectants, protective masks, goggles ...) for health workers.
  • We appeal to employees in laboratories, pharmacies, university institutions and in all production facilities, where it is technically feasible, to reorganise production towards socially necessary goods.
  • Any speculative, price-driving behavior in production must be curtailed, and wholesale companies must be made public by the employees. Such companies should be nationalised without compensation under the workers’ control.
  • In order to set up additional accommodation and hospital beds, all extra capacity in hotels and on the housing market must be registered centrally and requisitioned if required by the public. The needs of socially and psychologically vulnerable groups in society must be given special attention: families in small apartments, people without homes and those affected by domestic violence need a safe and healthy living space.

No to the social crisis!

The outbreak of the pandemic is occurring on top of an unfolding economic crisis. The crisis has already affected many productive sectors for months. This week, we saw prices fall both in the stock market and commodities. The dynamics of the coronavirus crisis will trigger a deep global economic crisis, created by the inherent, underlying contradictions in the situation. After the suffering caused by the disease, we will experience a massive wave of social misery and poverty. We need the following measures to counter the impoverishment of the working class:

  • A legal ban on lay-offs, to be applied retroactively from 9 March.
  • Full payment of wages.
  • Guaranteed compensation for everyone in precarious employment and all self-employed workers who will lose their income due to this crisis.
  • Alternating, unlimited care leave for parents with children under 14 and children with special needs.
  • School and university students, as well as course participants, cannot achieve the same learning success from home. We demand the suspension of the grading system, and for everyone to advance to the next school year. More teaching staff must also be hired after the end of the coronavirus crisis.

We don’t trust the policies of the ruling class!

In the crisis that developed last week, we saw some of the capitalists and their representatives implement their interests in a particularly selfish and unscrupulous manner.

The ringleaders of this anti-social behaviour are, once again, the Austrian industrial association (IA), which on 12 March called for “stable conditions for growth.” By this they mean the immediate abolition of democratic, labour and trade union rights. At the same time, the IA publicly demanded an immediate reduction of corporation tax, the most important tax on business!

Hundreds of thousands of workers across the country are experiencing this greedy selfishness, which now manifests itself in its most concentrated form. Thousands are now being laid off. Some bosses are attempting to specifically fire mothers. In other companies, special bonuses are being paid out to keep production going. We know of countless cases of anti-social behaviour by company management. For example, workers of a large metal company have been made to continue working in dangerous shifts, even though several colleagues tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. This behavior is due to the bosses’ pursuit of profit. Competition for markets and profits continues, even in times of social emergency. We answer these bosses with the slogan of the Italian strikers: "We are not your cattle for slaughter!"

As we write this appeal, the ski lifts continue to run in high-risk tourist areas. On 5 March, the Tyrolean health authorities still denied any connection with hundreds of Corona cases that were detected among Tyrolean holidaymakers in Denmark, Iceland, Great Britain and could clearly be traced back to Tyrolean ski areas. The selfish behavior of the Austrian tourism industry and its political arm, the Austrian People's Party (ÖVP), is a fact that is already recognized throughout Europe today.

We therefore refuse to be politically subordinated to the idea of national unity. Instead, we demand that the political and social interests of the working class be upheld and represented on every public platform. We sharply criticise the fact that the union and SPÖ leadership do not take an independent position. Their task in this situation should be to formulate and organise the interests of the working class.

During the financial crisis in 2008, a cross-party decree in parliament provided Austrian banks with a bailout fund of €100 billion. This decision has cost us 11 billion euros since then and all bank guarantees for investors were paid for by the working class. Not a single corrupt banker or Austrian politician was jailed for this. Given this record, we have every reason to distrust the ruling class and its policies, even now.

We therefore refuse to accept political appeals for ‘national unity’. The "Team Austria" ideology is not suitable for fighting this crisis. Under this guise, the wealthy and powerful and their lobbyists will continue to do everything possible to assert their interests. These are profit interests. They blatantly stand in the way of fighting the coronavirus crisis. And they will want to dump the economic and social burden of the crisis on our shoulders.

We therefore demand:

  • No further bank bailouts. Banks that go bankrupt must be nationalised. Only small investors should be compensated.
  • Companies that carry out mass layoffs must be nationalised. Production must be continued under the control of the workers and, if necessary, reorganised to produce socially necessary goods.
  • We, the revolutionary Marxists of Der Funke (Austrian section of the International Marxist Tendency) only trust in the strength and reason of our own class. Our comrades will participate responsibly in all socially necessary activities. We will adhere to and promote sanitary measures. At the same time, we will fully uphold our political work.

We are reorganising our political work, but we will not stop it. We will hold our events online and make publications available digitally.

We call on all our supporters to actively support us in every way:

If you agree, distribute our material, send us reports about the situation, support our efforts financially, get involved!

Editorial Board, Der Funke

Vienna, March 15, 2020

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