austrian student occupations: our social context and our demands

A statement by students at the university occupation in Vienna. See here for an interview with one of the activists involved. This document was published early in the struggle but is only newly available in English.

The strike signifies the refusal of work, but in this case it means an enormous intensity of labour. For more than a week people have been organizing, coordinating, communicating, writing, filming, photographing, cooking, doing media work and much more.

The university occupations didn’t occur out of the blue. Rather, they’re part and parcel of many years of work done by students, teachers, workers and particularly by non-institutional and self-organized groups and people. They not only call attention to the grievances with the university, the educational sector, and social structures more broadly – they are generating analyses, organising resistance, elaborating alternatives and living them. Therefore they are constantly fighting for the time and space to realize this. Without the work of this multitude of people, the protests happening here and now would not be possible.

These events are connected to the worldwide development of social movements. In this sense what is being fought for is not only better working conditions for students, teachers and other university personnel – rather it’s a fight for better working conditions across all sectors and borders.

Importantly, we’re also referring to the working conditions of those who are not directly contracted by the university, be they cleaning personnel or scientists. The protests argue for the visibility of these working conditions, including all of the unpaid and badly paid work – mostly done by women – in the household, in the educational and care sectors, and so many other fields.

Society benefits from the knowledge that is appropriated and applied across those unpaid domains of work that aren’t accredited with symbolic capital. Alongside this an image of a certain type of worker is imposed – a highly competitive, resilient, goal-oriented individual, capable of performing specified tasks at high speed, no doubt without any incentive to question working conditions. What’s wanted is human capital, what’s wanted is performance indicators for the national economy. This is highlighted by the reams of badly paid or unpaid internships that are being carried out at the present time.

The demand to improve the conditions of work is not a demand for an extra 5 cents per hour, 3 Euros more child benefit, or simply more money for the universities. The demand to improve working conditions means fundamental social changes – it’s obvious that the current social order mainly produces exclusion and discrimination. Exclusion of minorities, be they migrants, people with special needs, elderly or socially disadvantaged persons. And they are exclusions, the cost of which is primarily carried by women. These exclusions are promoted and exercised by the quasi-democratic, economized, patriarchal processes of decision- making that dominate society. This also includes certain kinds of societies, such as the traditionalist patriarchal organizations (Burschenschaften – Brotherhoods) that find their host in the university. Fundamentally responsible however are the hegemonial patriarchal, sexist, anti-Semitic, anti-roma, racist, nationalist, conservative, repressive and quasi-democratic politics that prevail in Austria.

Whilst a large part of the Austrian mediascape has been belittling or scandalizing the protests in the usual manner, there emerges a wave of amazement at how transversal, persistent, strong and significant these protests are. We refuse the appropriation of the protests by the Rector of the Academy of Fine Arts – this movement is not driven by an avant-garde of socially critical art that happens to be compatible with the market. With these protests, we are fighting for a space that is also imaginable because of the historical and political knowledge generated within the universities. More importantly however the space of this protest is constituted by the experiences we’re making and articulating across the interstices of our tight study schedules and difficult working conditions.

What’s lived and demanded here is:

– the abolition of exploitative power structures and their mechanisms of exclusion
– the absolute democratization of all institutions
– the end of racist and sexist laws, labour market politics and educational politics
– the end of racist and sexist service economies
– the end of free-work and appropriate payment of internships
– the payment of services that haven’t been accredited as labour, such as Housework, childcare, and caring for the sick, no matter who is doing it.
– the acknowledgement of non-institutionally legitimized knowledge’s

We demand free access to the educational system for everyone.
We demand not only the end of the economisation of education.
We demand the end of exploitation in all areas of life.

Re*claim your education
Re*claim your body
Re*claim time and space
Re*claim your life