Tibor Zenker, chairman of the Party of Labor of Austria (PdA), writes about the country’s health system, the impact of COVID-19 and the economic impact of the pandemic on the working class.
Austria’s public health system is of a relatively high standard compared to global levels but it has been deliberately dented by austerity measures imposed at an increasing rate over the past decades. Over the years, Austria has been left with fewer public hospitals with reduced bed capacity and intensive care units. The medical staff is overworked and underpaid and there are not enough doctors in rural areas. Also, some services have been privatized or made chargeable. The self-administration of health insurance funds by trade unions has been abolished. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the shortcomings of this system, revealing that the question of health is also related to class.
The handling of the pandemic by the Austrian federal government of the conservative Christian People’s Party (OVP) and the Green Party is characterized by failure and chaos. Austria initially contributed to the European COVID-19 clusters due to mismanagement and allowing winter tourism guided by corporate profits. The government failed to prepare for the second wave during the summer and lost control in the autumn of 2020 as the number of positive cases in the country exploded. There was no effective plan in place, particularly in schools.
Meanwhile, vaccinations have started but at a very slow pace due to low availability of doses. Under these conditions, lockdowns, curfews, quarantine measures and mandatory masks may continue to be imposed in the coming months.
Austria is also facing its greatest economic crisis since the Second World War. Never since 1945 have there been so many unemployed (12%) in the country. Several among those employed are on short-time work schemes or have suffered loss of income. The social life of the working class and popular sections is being threatened by the pandemic and the economic crisis. However, the federal government has only made efforts to save the companies, banks and corporations and their profits. Billions of euros have been pumped into big business, while work continues in many production plants and offices with inadequate security measures. As efforts are taken to benefit capital, the working class is left to suffer.
The Party of Labour (Partei der Arbeit or PdA), a Marxist-Leninist party of the Austrian working class, has demanded the expansion of the public health system and free COVID-19 protection for all. The PdA maintains that the burdens of the capitalist crisis must not be passed on to the working class or small-scale self-employed workers and peasants. The pandemic has highlighted the deficiencies of the structures of capitalism and imperialism, which are unable to meet the needs of the people as only a socialist society can.