Austria: trade unions back campaign for better financing of local government services
(December 2011) Over 140 mayors from across the political spectrum have signed up to a campaign for improved funding of local government services.
The campaign is calling for a re-negotiation of the federal Austrian financial distribution system, which the national government plans to undertake in 2013. By doing this, the various groups in the ‘Communal Resolution Campaign’ want to promote a new type of dialogue and alliance-building between trade unions, civil society, local politicians and communal political bodies. This is important because it puts centre-stage the question of how to strengthen municipalities and local public and social services as an answer to the current economic and financial crises.
In 2010, the Austrian “pathways out of the crisis” alliance was born. Its members include the trade union of communal services GdG-KMSfB, unions that organise in the health sector and other services GPA DJP, VIDA and PRO-GE and important civil society organisations like Global2000 – a member of Friends of the Earth, KAB, Attac, and Greenpeace. Together, they seek to develop and promote proposals and concrete answers to the economic and financial crisis.
In May 2011, the national ‘Communal Resolution’ campaign was launched calling for a strengthening of municipalities and the protection and expansion of local public and social services. Similar to the Austrian ‘GATS-free-communes’ campaign of the early 2000s, the campaign aims to mobilise local trade union members, citizens as well as local politicians.
The campaign aims for mayors and local parliaments in Austrian municipalities and communes to sign the online petition: “Resolution for Securing Communal Basic Services". Its success can be measured by the fact that so many mayors and local parliaments have already signed up, including important cities like Vienna, Linz, Hall in Tirol and Wiener Neustadt (interview with Alexandra Strickner, global2000, 13.10.2011).
Austrian municipalities, like most European communes, have been faced with ever more financial constraints and declining tax revenues. This has left many local authorities highly indebted and reduced their economic capacity to provide essential public and social services.
Instead of taking the dominant neo-liberal, free-market approach and weakening and abandoning them, the resolution argues that municipalities and communal public services should be strengthened and expanded. The argument is not just that local authorities play an important role in the Austrian economic and social system but also because they are central in responding to the economic and financial crises.
The resolution calls for the reform of the taxation system to provide a broader and more equitable tax base and higher budget allocation for communes and local public services, including a financial transactions tax at national and EU level. Municipalities could then stimulate green economic modernisation and secure valuable jobs in public and social services.
In addition, by promoting better standards of living, local authorities could better fulfill the unmet social rights of their citizens. Building on participatory democracy, the resolution also aims for the implementation of a municipal participatory “civil society budget”.
By Philip Terhorst