Students across Austria have been in occupation for more than three months, battling against a government that is assaulting education funding and attempting to push through neoliberal reforms.
The university of Vienna was the first to occupy and has been the centre of the movement.
Last week we held a conference of the Austrian occupations called the “Real Education Dialogue”. Here new people joined in discussions about strategies for taking the occupations forward.
Afterwards we took to the streets and surrounded parliament, to show that we know who is responsible for the miserable situation at universities – and that we know how to put pressure on the government and fight for our rights.
The government has offered us 34 million euros, but we know that this is nothing like enough.
It offered us discussions with the minister of higher education that would exclude the majority of those affected. We refused, and demanded he met with the movement as a whole.
It is clear that the concessions are ridiculous and do not fulfil our demands in any way. But they legitimise our protests and reveal the need to organise a real discussion about the changes we need and how we can get them.
In recent weeks, thousands of students have debated, taken to the streets, written articles and given interviews. They have developed a consciousness of how change comes – not by relying on the government or the student union, but by organising and being collectively active.
This is a message politicians and newspapers do not want to hear, but more and more students and lecturers do.
In the geography department a working group came together to publish a newspaper. Anja Marcher, a student in the department, explained, “Two lecturers wrote articles about the occupations so we took the first step in combining our struggles.
“By distributing the paper we get into discussions with new people and are able to mobilise them for upcoming events.”
We have increased our efforts in each department to win over new students and lecturers and then combine these forces at big demonstrations and conferences. This is the way to build up a broad movement that is going to last.
The long-term focus in Austria is the Bologna Summit in Vienna next March. The Bologna Process is the neoliberal blueprint for higher education across Europe – it slashes funding, puts up fees and introduces the market.
While the governments of Europe want to celebrate their “achievements”, we will show them that we won’t accept those assaults any more.
During the occupations we have made connections with workers – and not only in the education sector. We have established relations with trade unions, both the officials and the rank and file.
The cuts in higher education are not the only ones the government is pushing, nor do they only affect students. Our demonstrations have taken place under the slogan “Money for education – not for banks and corporations”.
It therefore becomes more obvious that we have to question the system as a whole.
It is now “common sense” that there is not enough money for education and that the universities are organised undemocratically. We are determined to win our demands and the government has already started to move. New attacks will come, and we have to prepare ourselves and be able to fight back.