Already in the last years of World War I it had become necessary to make concessions to workers in order to keep the war economy running. The most important legislation included Tenant Protection in January 1917 and Grievance Commission in March 1917. Immediately after taking power on 30 October 1918 the provisional cabinet of Karl Renner began with an extensive programme of social reform under the Secretary for Social Affairs Ferdinand Hanusch. By applying clever tactics Hanusch succeeded in carrying out revolutionary reforms that would not have seemed possible earlier. He negotiated with employers and achieved material and institutional reforms for workers, always pointing to the Communist revolutionary attempt in Hungary as a threat to Austrian democracy. In December 1918 unemployment benefits were introduced and a proper unemployment insurance was realised in 1920. Also in December 1918 child labour and home-work was reorganised and the 8-hour workday was introduced for all. An obligation for enterprises of a certain size to employ a certain amount of workers was designed to fight the unemployment of all those soldiers returning home from war or imprisonment. Lots of laws were passed against large landed noble property and big estates until the summer of 1919. Really important for the future was a holiday entitlement for every worker and the installations of grievance commissions which developed into conciliation offices that also supervised collective agreements. In 1920 a number of professional laws improved the situation of workers, especially servants. Tthe new servant regulation replaced an older one dating back to 1810. Chambers of Labour were installed that offered to every worker an equally effective representation as the employers had in the Chambers of Commerce. Social Insurance was extended, including a health insurance for civil servants and a health and accident insurance for agricultural labourers in 192). After the electoral victory of the Christian Socialists in 1920, the break -up of the coalition government of the Social Democrats and the Christian Socialists and the establishment of a conservative government the social reforms stopped.
Since the 1920s the income of workers’ families had decreased continuously, between 1930 and 1934 the average income shrank by 37 %. The income of the man constituted only half of the family income and more and more households had to rely on the income of the woman and the unemployment benefit, if available. Even in 1925, one of the few years of economic growth, a Viennese worker’s household spent 57 % of its total expenditure on food. Many of the families with more children had to rely on the vegetables and fruit they grew on small plots rented from the city at a very low rent, so-called “Schrebergärten”. Tenant Protection in Vienna saw to it that the share of the rent of the average household budget sank from approximately 14 % to 3 %. The biggest share of expenditure included linen and clothes, most of which was bought on hire purchase, which contributed to a high indebtedness of Viennese workers’ households. Co-operatives in retailing were founded to offer goods at low and fair prices to consumers and protect them against exploitation. Co-operatives were the third pillar of Social Democracy in Austria after the party organisation and the trade unions.
Johnston, William M., The Austrian Mind. An Intellectual and Social History 1848 –
1938, University of California 1972.
Schorske, Carl E., Fin-de-Siècle Vienna. Politics and Culture, New York 1981