SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Socialism Today 129 - June 2009

Austrian school students show the way

APRIL 24 saw the biggest school students’ strike since the 1980s, with 60,000 pouring onto the streets all over Austria. These are the first signs of growing unrest and struggles in the wake of the economic crisis. The action was the third school strike within three weeks, coming just after a 10,000 strong national school students’ strike on 20 April, taken in solidarity with the teachers. Hours after that strike, the GÖD public-sector union capitulated to the government and called off another strike planned for 23 April.

This deal did not include the original plan of social democrat (SPÖ) education minister, Claudia Schmied, to increase the teachers’ working week by two hours, but it did include the cancellation of five so-called ‘autonomous school days’, school-free days that could be fixed locally. This, in effect, is still a lengthening of working hours for the teachers without any benefit for school students. In addition, the union leadership accepted pay cuts for the teachers. The social democrat teachers’ union representative was virtually forced by the SPÖ leadership to agree to this deal. This is another reminder that the SPÖ leaders use their links with the unions to force through attacks, and is a further illustration of why a new workers’ party is needed urgently so that struggles can be successful.

The school students’ strike on 24 April was sparked by anger about the cancellation of much-needed holidays. Despite drawing much larger numbers onto the streets, reflecting the growing intent on the part of many students to fight the government’s attacks, the strike was, in a way, less political than the previous one, in that the 20 April strike, organised by left school student organisations, was called explicitly in solidarity with the teachers and against cuts in education.

The 24 April strike was co-organised by the Peoples’ Party’s school students’ organisation, Schülerunion, which had reached a deal with Schmied the day before on cancelling three of the proposed five days holiday. The Peoples’ Party (ÖVP) , traditionally Austria’s main capitalist party, forms the national coalition government with Schmied’s SPÖ. The Schülerunion had planned to use the strike to celebrate this deal as a victory. But it had underestimated the dynamic of the events. Most school students who went on strike were not at all satisfied with the deal and demanded the full amount of holidays, refusing to be punished for the mistakes of capitalism.

In Vienna, the demonstration that was organised by the left organisations had a far larger turnout than the one organised by Schülerunion. In Salzburg, where the strike was mainly organised by the Sozialistische Linkspartei (SLP - CWI Austria), the mood on the strike was very political. It addressed the economic crisis and criticised the leadership of the teachers’ union for backing down and failing to lead a serious struggle against the government’s attacks, and it included contingents of young trade unionists. The Salzburg demo on 20 April was bigger than the one in Vienna, with 3,000 turning out. On 24 April, 8,000 school students struck in Salzburg, a city of 150,000 inhabitants. That strike indicated the politicisation of a layer of young school students who have now been drawn into action, with some drawing anti-capitalist conclusions as the current crisis is used to attack their futures. These young people now need to get organised around a fighting platform to fight against the attacks on education and living standards, including growing youth unemployment, and to put pressure on the trade unions to lead a real effective struggle.

As this movement got underway, the SLP launched, a website as well as a school students’ paper, as a forum for school students who want to get active in the struggle and strikes. It has raised the need to link the attacks on education with the economic crisis and the need for a common struggle of teachers and school students. This then should be linked to the struggles of other layers of society in order to build the strongest possible movement against attempts to make workers and youth pay for this crisis. There is still massive anger among school students and especially teachers. The fact that the teachers’ strike on 23 April would have included a demonstration during working hours reflected the enormous pressure from below. This pressure will not just evaporate.

The developing economic crisis is increasingly provoking resistance on the part of the working class. The government’s budget that is being presented as a ‘crisis intervention budget’ is definitely not a favourable one to the working class – €10.3 billion is being allocated to bank rescue packages. But this may not be enough to rescue Austria’s banks which are heavily threatened by financial crises in central and eastern Europe. The economic crisis is already having a social effect. Three weeks ago the president of the Caritas Catholic charity accused the Austrian elite of carrying out a ‘class struggle’ against workers, thereby undermining the ‘social-market economy’.

The trade union leaders had originally intended to ignore the economic crisis. But sections of them were forced to support the ‘we won’t pay’ demo on 28 March and, increasingly, they are being forced to mobilise. There is a looming strike threat by print workers, as the bosses’ organisation is attempting to drop collective bargaining and, because of the pressure from below, the Austrian Trade Union Federation (ÖGB) has been forced to call protests on the issue of wage negotiations. The SLP and other left organisations are calling for action to link the different struggles into a generalised one. It is clear that a socialist alternative is needed to end the system of capitalist chaos and crisis.

Laura Rafetseder

Sozialistische Linkspartei - CWI Austria:


Home About Us | Back Issues | Reviews | Links | Contact Us | Subscribe | Search | Top of page