International Women’s Day in Austria
How socialists in Austria turned the Demonstrations on March the 8 th towards the strikes in the social sector
While in many countries demonstrations and even strikes took place on March 6th for
International Women’s Day, in Austria the question of a women's or a feminist strike is still very abstract. The trade unions completely ignore this method of struggle for women's rights and also many of the organizers of the protests in Austrian cities do not see this as a key method to struggle. The SLP, the Austrian section of the ISA, takes a different approach: our activists were not only part of the demonstrations in Vienna, Graz and Linz.
Everywhere we put our focus on the strikes that are taking place in the social sector at the moment, for a reduction of working hours at full pay. The social sector is not only a sector with a mainly female workforce, but also one where the ongoing cuts hit women the hardest, as clients, patients and relatives of those impacted. It is also a sector where we have seen a growing militancy in the last few years, in Austria but also on an international level, and often not going through the traditional trade union structures but rather bypassing them and/or pushing the trade union bureaucracy into action (who react then often in an attempt not to lose too much control).
Show what we stand for in practice
In most major cities in Austria, the marches for IWD are traditionally organized by activists from the autonomous left and/or a petty-bourgeois feminist background. In Linz, Austria's main industrial city, this role was left unfulfilled after the activists that organised IWD in the last several years stopped doing so. This provided us a chance to show how it should be done in practice.
The socialist-feminist initiative Nicht mit mir (“Not with me”), the Austrian organization of Rosa International, called for the formation of a broad campaign. But we didn’t call for a typical “joint left” campaign, simply with representatives of various left organizations coming together (although of course those organizations were invited too), but a real rank-and-file initiative bringing together activists from the grassroots.
Demands were developed in democratic discussions – a process that was summarized by an activist as “very good, as I learned so much from it”. A list of demands was put together ranging from free child-care, affordable public housing, a minimum wage and a shorter working week, as well as the need for a society fundamentally different from capitalism, because “in a system of oppression there can be no equality”. It was a fighting program that did not make the campaign with the name “do it yourself” more narrow, as some on the left often argue. One of the activists complained about the “lefties that argue arrogantly against a radical program, saying ordinary people will not understand it – but really are just big cowards”.
The demonstration in Linz itself was a big success: it was young, it was dynamic, it
brought together people of all genders and nationalities to march for women’s rights. While the traditional left organizations from the Social Democrats, the Communist Party and other leftists were absent, the demonstration was stronger than in previous years, with over 300 participating. It was more democratically organised, it was more lively and it had closer links to the real struggles taking place at this moment in time. Support for the strike in the social sector was one of the main features at the IWD demonstration. The paper of the SLP was very well received, with over 45 copies sold. People stopped and watched the demo passing by, some joined and some of the activists made clear that they want to start immediately organizing an even better and bigger International Women’s Day
demonstration in 2021.