Mass Protest movement in Austria against right-wing

SONJA GRUSCH of the Sozialistische LinksPartei (SLP), Austrian section of the Committee for a Workers International (CWI) – the socialist international organisation to which the Socialist Party is affiliated) reports on the massive school students strike and demos against Austria’s new right-wing coalition government.

“AFTER THE elections on 3 October 1999 (when Jorg Haider’s extreme right-wing Freedom Party (FPO) gained 27% of the vote) we decided to call for a school students’ strike through the SAP/YRE (School Student Action Platform/Youth Against Racism in Europe) in case the FPO came to power. We started to collect names and addresses from school students who wanted to participate.

In January, when it became clear that there were negotiations between the FPO and the conservative People’s Party (OVP), the SAP called a meeting. Representatives from 23 schools were there and we set the date of the strike for Friday 18 February.

The official school student representatives, which in Austria are dominated by a organisation (Scholerunion) financed by the [Blairite] Social Democratic Party (SPO), spoke out against it, as did the ministry for education.

There was also enormous pressure by the authorities in some schools against the strike. But once the date was announced by the SLP on the daily anti-Haider demos, it became widely known.

The demo itself was a big success. The police speaks of 4,000 students, the press of 7,000. We are sure it was 15,000 – at least at some stages of the demo. It was one of the biggest school student demos and it was very lively, political and militant. There were youth with flags, home-made banners, shouting, whistling and discussing.

The slogans were against the cuts in education, against racist policies, the repression by the ministry of education and the headmasters and against the government in general.

The media say the students just wanted to have a day off; that’s a lie, if you consider the threats used against them. In one school the authorities even locked the doors, to prevent them to go on the demo – the students climbed out of the window!

19 February mass demo

AFTER THE daily demos in the last three weeks, the mass demo on the 19 February was a high point of the movement. It was organised by the ‘Democratic Offensive’ a platform of different artists, politicians etc. 300,000 people turned up despite the rain.

The trade unions mobilised as well and people came from all over Austria. The speakers were mainly ‘establishment’ politicians but they had to accept a speaker from the Left-wing ‘Action Committee against blue-black’ [“Blue-black” describes the OVP/FPO coalition] who spoke about the hypocrisy of the European Union politicians who condemn the coalition but are themselves pursuing right-wing economic and social policies, and about the need for strike action against the government.

There was a Left demo to the mass rally. The SLP had a loudspeaker truck with speeches, music and slogans. We also used the famous “Widerstand” [“resistance”] banner, and also a CWI banner saying: “Against racism and cuts, For Workers’ Unity and Socialism, Committee for a Workers’ International”.

In the whole movement we sold 3,500 special issues of our newspaper. On the 18th and 19th we sold 3,000 copies of edition number five.

We called for the trade unions to become active, for 8 March to be a day of action and strikes.

Socialist Left Party rally

THE AUSTRIAN CWI section formed itself as a party at its national conference on 30 January.

We wanted to go for a big launch rally on 18 March. But because of the anti-Haider protest movement, in which we intervened as SLP, we decided to go for a showcase meeting on 20 February.

Despite the short notice the meeting was a great success. There were 100 people, with speakers from Austria, Germany, Joe Higgins (Irish Socialist Party TD), and the CWI. Four joined at the meeting and several others joined in the days before.

We expect the movement to subside after the 19th. But, together with the Action Committee, we call for weekly demos every Thursday. We also will continue to pressure the trade unions to call for a strike and put forward 8 March as a national strike day.

The trade unions called for the demo on the 19th but that’s it. The trade union leaders argue to wait for the government proposals to be put to the parliament so that they know about the details and then they will act against it. But we also have to ensure pressure from below, that they have to speak openly about strike actions.”