ÖGB general congress adopts new policy programme
At its general congress held in June–July 2009, the Austrian Trade Union Federation (ÖGB) continued an internal restructuring process initiated in 2007 and approved a new policy programme. The programme contains a range of proposals of how to tackle the current economic crisis and secure the welfare state; it also includes demands in this regard aimed at policymakers. In the run-up to the congress, a union merger of two ÖGB affiliates took place.
From 30 June to 2 July 2009, the Austrian Trade Union Federation (Österreichischer Gewerkschaftsbund, ÖGB) held its 17th general congress (Bundeskongress) – the ÖGB’s highest governing body – in Austria’s capital city Vienna. At this event, the federation adopted the continuation of an internal restructuring process launched at the last congress in 2007. Restructuring had become necessary in the wake of the conflict related to the financial disaster concerning the Bank for Employment and Commerce (Bank für Arbeit und Wirtschaft AG, BAWAG) and the former ÖGB leadership’s involvement in this controversy (AT0703039I).
Regionalisation and financial consolidation
At the 2007 congress, in order to stop the then wave of member resignations and to maintain ÖGB’s political power, a strict cost-cutting programme as well as an organisational reform was approved by a majority of the delegates. With regard to the organisational reform, it was agreed that the federation’s former small local subunits should be merged to create larger regional units. The aim of this ‘regionalisation’ has been to provide services and advice to members and works council members more effectively. In a statement of accounts presented at the 2009 assembly, the competent ÖGB representatives reported that this process of replacing local subunits by regional units has largely been finalised, while the core task of enhancing member recruitment still remains to be accomplished. Moreover, the cost-saving programme as approved in 2007 has resulted in a sustainable consolidation of the finances, in that debts and liabilities have been reduced by two thirds within three years and net assets have been multiplied to almost €300 million in 2008.
New policy programme and applications
Against the background of the current economic downturn which, in the ÖGB’s rhetoric, was caused by an unbridled financial capitalism, a new policy programme, and a series of applications and proposals, were adopted by the congress delegates. The general congress thereby identified a range of key issues to be targeted by the policymakers, calling in particular for the following:
- a strong state capable of regulating the financial markets and securing minimum welfare standards; counteracting the current recession must by no means lead to cuts in social welfare;
- a change in economic policy: banks should be urged to increasingly grant loans to businesses; state funding of the banks should be made contingent on the fulfilment of this criterion;
- strengthening the state pensions system, since additional pension schemes tend to be too volatile, as the current crisis shows;
- the closure of existing gaps in company taxation, as well as an elevation of property (growth) taxation to international standards;
- higher staffing and funding of the Labour Market Service (Arbeitsmarktservice, AMS) for extending existing active and passive labour market policies;
- tackling poverty more effectively: unemployment benefits should be raised to average EU standards; moreover, a ‘needs-oriented basic cover’ scheme (AT0804019I), including obligatory health insurance, should be urgently introduced;
- a general working time reduction with full wage compensation, in order to secure the standard of living as well as the purchasing power;
- securing the national health service, which is currently in deficit, by developing new resources, for example, by charging companies’ value added.
Elections for ÖGB President
On 2 July 2009, Erich Foglar, until then acting as executive president of ÖGB, was elected as the official ÖGB President, as expected, securing a majority vote of almost 89%. In parallel, two Vice-Presidents, Sabine Oberhauser and Norbert Schnedl, and 18 ÖGB board members were elected by the delegates.
Union merger ahead of congress
On 29 June 2009, the Municipal Employees’ Union (Gewerkschaft der Gemeindebediensteten, GdG), which organises public employees of the local state, and the small Arts, Media, Sports and Liberal Professions Union (Gewerkschaft Kunst, Medien, Sport, freie Berufe, KMSfB) merged their organisations at a joint founding congress. This merger had become necessary because KMSfB, which lately organised only 9,250 people, could not act autonomously due to severe financial problems (AT0806029I). The new GdG-KMSfB represents about 156,000 workers. The old KMSfB debts will be borne by the trade union umbrella federation ÖGB.
Georg Adam, Department of Industrial Sociology, University of Vienna