May Day 2018

1 May

Many years on I still can’t get over it–public transportation is running today. My first year in Vienna I was invited to lunch by friends. In plenty of time, I went to the bus stop only to find that public transport wasn’t running because it was not only a public holiday, it was the First of May and therefore Labor Day, the day we celebrate by not working. In those days, the Social Democrats had an absolute majority in Vienna (“Red Vienna,” after all). They mainly represent blue-collar workers (“Arbeiter” or laborers) and tram, bus, and train drivers count as blue-collar workers. They were freed from work until 2 p.m. so that they could enjoy the parades and other festivities. On that day I walked to lunch.

How times have changed. The Social Democrats have not had the absolute majority for many years. I know there was a lot of corruption in the party. Some of the most spectacular bankruptcies of the 1990s (I’m thinking particularly of the supermarket chain Konsum) were due to the mismanagement and corruption of people closely tied to the SPÖ (the Austrian Social Democratic Party). At the same time, many of the aspects that year after year take Vienna to the top of quality of life rankings are thanks to the Social Democrats–the great public transportation, amazing cultural life, super public facilities like swimming pools and skating rinks, humane public housing, low crime rate, and perhaps that most fantastic institution, the Vienna Woods. There is little hope that the new “turquoise” and blue government (a coalition of the new branch of the Conservatives and the right-wing nationalist Freedom Party) will carry on those traditions. How times have changed, here as elsewhere.

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