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From The Socialist newspaper, 17 May 2003

Workers Strike Back

Austria

ON 6 May, for the first time in decades, the ÖGB (Austrian trade union federation) called for a national day of action, including strikes. About 500,000 workers took part in about 10,000 workplace meetings, rallies, strikes, blockades and demonstrations across Austria.

Sonja Grusch, Sozialistiche LinksPartei (SLP), Vienna

The government plan a pension 'reform' which would cut pensions by 30% to 50%. The only people gaining would be the private pensions market.

The ÖGB has long been 'proud' of taking no strike action, so this is an important turning point. Public transport workers struck in most big cities. Workers struck in garbage collection and the unemployment offices. Printworkers at major daily papers and high school teachers also went on strike.

Workers from chemical and steel industries in Linz had big workplace rallies, as did social and pension insurance employees. There were school student demos in Vienna and Salzburg.

Unfortunately the ÖGB did not call for one big unified demo in each area but told striking workers to stay in their workplaces. However in Salzburg 10,000 demonstrated.

Wherever SLP (Socialist Left Party, the Socialist Party's counterpart in Austria) members spoke to workers, white-collar and blue-collar, we heard the same comment: "This action is not enough".

SLP members sold papers in Linz, Salzburg and Vienna. At a meeting of striking tram drivers in Vienna, an SLP speaker called for a 24-hour general strike and got a good response. Thousands of workers were affected because of the strikes in transport, though this was not a general strike.

Recent opinion polls show 62% support for the strike. The Social Democratic Party and the Greens supported the strike but said there's a "necessity" for some changes in pensions.

After the big ÖGB demonstration in Vienna on 13 May there will be further activities each week if the changes are passed by parliament on 4 June.

The SLP is campaigning for a 24-hour general strike as a first warning to the ruling parties and further strike action if necessary to stop the reform. Also to bring down the government that makes these attacks.


France

MILLIONS OF workers in France's schools, hospitals, transport, communications and energy industries, struck on 13 May in protest at government attacks on pensions.

Prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin's right-wing government wants to raise the retirement age, increase the number of qualifying years, increase contributions and decrease the state pension's value.

Raffarin gives tax breaks to private companies, but wants to make workers pay for an estimated 50 billion euro financial hole in the pensions fund.

He is also under pressure from the EU to rein in France's widening public sector deficit.

Gas and electricity workers also face attacks on jobs and conditions through privatisation.

This is France's second national strike this year over pensions. The growing workers' movement is reminiscent of the mass movement which defeated the previous attacks on the welfare state in 1995 by the then PM, Alain Juppé.


Sweden

"AT LAST we're fighting back - this is a strike we've been waiting for" - that's the overwhelming feeling among the 50,000+ workers on strike in Sweden from 12 May. It's the first major strike since 1995 and Sweden's biggest council workers strike ever.

Per-Åke Westerlund, Stockholm

Low-paid workers, mostly women, are demanding a 5.5% pay rise. Their employers, political representatives from all the establishment parties, offer a two year-deal with less than 5.5% for most members and only a 2% rise the second year.

The strike is also a fight-back against over a decade of cuts and privatisations. So the strike has an incredible support from other workers, 84% according to opinion polls.

Every day the strike's political importance is growing. People discuss the distribution of wealth in society, with increased consciousness of the need for a real workers' alternative.

Social democratic politicians, as well as people from the Left Party, have actively been scabbing at schools and city dumps.

The union, Kommunal, has organised picket lines, something not seen in Sweden for a long time, but still very lame, without really blocking the scabs.

Picket lines have given a great welcome to the support campaign by Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (the Socialist Party's Swedish counterpart).

On 12 May in Stockholm we sold 73 copies of our weekly paper Offensiv to strikers. At a local demo, an ISR-speaker received massive applause from the strikers and 18 subscriptions.

Our councillors in Luleå and Umeå have raised support for the strike, with all other parties voting against.

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In The Socialist 17 May 2003:

Wealth Gap Widens Under Blair: Make The Rich Pay!

Defend the right to strike: Support The Fire Fighters

Coventry Socialists: Standing Up for Working-Class Communities

New Labour and the Unions: Time To Make The Break

Iraq watch

Workers Strike Back: Austria, France, Sweden

Socialism 2003 - Six Weeks To Go

300 Issues of the Socialist

Israel/Palestine conflict: Palestinian State Halted By Sharon Roadblock


 

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