The crisis of capitalism means attacks on workers at all levels, including women, who very often work in low paid jobs. The Austrian Social-Democratic Women’s Organisation prides itself at being “feminist”. However, when it comes to sacking women workers or cutting their wages the “feminism” of this organisation proves to be wafer thin, as we see in this case of the Sozial Global AG company in Vienna.
International Women’s Day has a long tradition in Austria. It was on 19 March 1911 when more than 20000 Social-Democratic workers (mainly women) marched on the streets of Vienna to demand the right to vote, better working condition and higher wages. One hundred years later the struggle for the rights of working women still continues. And this time the Social-Democratic Party leadership is in many cases on the other side of the barricade.
The latest example is the struggle of the healthcare workers in one of the biggest social service companies in Vienna “Sozial Global AG”. This company is owned by an association which is under the direct control of the Social-Democratic (SPÖ) Women’s Organisation. The board of directors is headed by a very prominent “social-democratic” manager, Wilhelmine Goldmann. She has a long history of privatising and attacking workers’ rights at the Postbus AG and on the railways.
Three weeks ago Sozial Global announced that it was laying off 385 of the 800 healthcare workers, only to hire them again on a new contract. This manoeuvre would have meant a loss of income of around 10% for these workers. Those who refused to accept the new conditions risked losing their jobs. This was nothing less than open blackmail of the workforce.
Ninety per cent of the workers concerned are women. The average wage in this sector is no higher than 1300 euro a month (including bonuses for weekend work, heavy labour, etc.). Nevertheless, the secretary of the SPÖ women, who is responsible for this attack, said that such wages do not allow the company to operate profitably! And the CEO of the company, Mrs. Schaefer-Wiery told the shop stewards: “Either I make the company profitable or I close it down. And I will do both with the same degree of passion.”
This approach of the SPÖ women and the management (all women by the way!) towards these hard working and badly paid women workers aroused a lot of anger within the ranks of the trade union movement. The union that covers this sector, VIDA, launched a protest campaign against the lay-offs. Thousands of shop stewards and trade union activists signed the protest petition. A group of trade unionists started to organise a solidarity committee for the workers of “Sozial Global”.
As a result of this pressure, the management had to step back and announce that it wanted to negotiate with the shop stewards. The trade union leadership, however, were only too willing to accept this offer and tried to use it to justify calling off the planned rally in front of the city hall for March 7. However, in the end the shop stewards and the unions went ahead and organised the rally anyway.
There are lots of events being organised to celebrate the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. The SPÖ women’s organisation present themselves as feminists and as being in the front line of the struggle for equal rights for women. The protest campaign of the workers at “Sozial Global”, however, threatened to seriously damage their “feminist” image. That is why they tried to reach some kind of compromise before 8 March. The trade union leadership was also happy to return to the bargaining table. At today’s (Monday, March 7) rally the shop steward had to present the agreement that had been reached with management. There will no longer be any lay-offs. However, the workers have to accept cuts in their wages. There can be no doubt that the workers could have defeated management completely if the trade union leaders had allowed the struggle to continue. It is once again a negative example of the logic of the “social partnership” policy of the trade union leadership. If the workers want to defend their interests under the conditions of capitalist crisis they will have to break with this logic.
Furthermore, this struggle underlines one thing very clearly. There is no such thing as “women’s solidarity” between female managers and female workers. In the last few weeks the government (not only the SP but also the conservative People’s Party) have started to argue for a 25% women’s quota on the board of directors of companies. This measure is being presented to the public as a big step forward towards equality and equal pay for equal work. The absurd idea behind this is that more female managers means they will try to improve the conditions of female workers.
The Marxists warn that this is confusing the issue and is an attempt to blur the real class contradictions in society in general and among women in particular. The gender composition of the bosses’ organisations is of no interest to the labour movement. What we should be concentrating on is making sure our own organisations – the trade unions and workers’ parties – are prepared to fight for the interests of all workers starting with the most oppressed ones, who very often are women.
The “feminism” of the Social-Democracy is of no use in fighting for equality and the emancipation of women workers. In recent months there have been several conflicts where the SPÖ, both in regional governments and in the federal government, has announced cuts which are directed against women workers. In Upper Austria this has already led to a strike and two big demonstrations of social workers. And now we have had the struggle of the workers of “Sozial Global“.
In Styria dozens of shop stewards of the social workers are organising a big demonstration against the cuts for 25 March. In this region, for example, the local government, led by the SPÖ, wants to put an end to free public nurseries. In this way they are making the working class (and first of all women workers) pay for the capitalist crisis.
These struggles have to be supported and extended by the whole labour movement. This is the real way forward in the fight for the rights of women, not through the token policy of proposing women’s quotas. It is in these real life struggles of working women where the feminists have to show if they are prepared to fight seriously for the rights of women. The Marxists are! Join us!