How Well is the “Welfare State”?

(Continued from the March SOCIALIST STANDRD).

Housing in Vienna
In the face of the general poverty of the mass of the people, any assertion that the workers are supposed to be the owners of nationalized industries is not only a mockery; it is a downright fraud and an insult to their intelligence. Even the assertion of house-owning by the workers is for the overwhelming majority nothing but an illusion. Of the 100,000 flats built by the Municipality of Vienna since 1922, not one can be claimed by the occupier to be his property. They all are owned and controlled by the share and bondholders of the Municipality and the Banks. The occupiers are there on sufferance; i.e., on condition that, and as long as they can pay the rent, the same as in all the houses belonging to private landlords or the State. Failure to meet this obligation involves the loss of the accommodation. No, “welfare” does not go so far as to make you the owner of “your” flat. While this municipal building activity may be said to be a bright spot in the jungle of the housing market, the problem remains really and truly a terrifying one.

Dr. Nuna Sailer, speaking on the social background of the problem of youth, said the whole question is marked by the indescribable housing conditions in Austria. In Vienna more than two-thirds of all flats still consist of only one room and kitchen. The larger part of the flats have not even their own water supply. There are no statistics on the number of beds in the individual households. Inspectors see appalling conditions when visiting homes. Children of four still sleep in cradles, prams or boxes, chests of drawers, trunks; two or three little stools and similar makeshifts serve as “beds.” As a result of a comprehensive investigation, it was found that 12 per cent of all children shared their parents’ bed. About a tenth of them are from 14 to 18 years old.

It is obvious that apart from a lot of other evils due to such lack of dwelling space, the child cannot learn or do its homework. Bad housing conditions also lead not only to quarrels, but to a complication of the problem of youth in the family. Out of 72,000 marriages in 1949 there were 18,000 divorces. Today almost 40 per cent of all children have no father, 20 per cent. are illegitimate, a large number come from unmarried couples, the remainder are orphans.

167,044 flats are needed in the whole of Austria, according to the latest statistical records. Behind this dreary figure there are hundreds of thousands of human tragedies. Not included in this figure are the many thousands of families which must dwell in old, derelict, insanitary places; those 167,044 families are looking for accommodation and have no home of their own at all. They live herded together with relatives or as sub-tenants. The sorry record is held by Vienna, where in spite of all municipal building, there is a lack of 62,741 flats. “On the question of how the shocking balance sheet of Austria’s housing misery could be remedied,” said a reporter, “the statistical office can, of course, give no information.”

Even the various homes for the homeless (cases of ejection, etc.) in Vienna have 200 family applicants on their waiting lists, although they offer only temporary abodes of some sort.

One must read the columns in the newspapers describing the housing conditions and the awful ordeals of all those thousands of families in quest of a home, to realize the amount of human suffering and degradation.

Just the same in Paris and London and Brussels
And those interested in conditions in other countries will learn that housing conditions there are even worse. According to official statistics, there are 1,180,000 dwellings in Paris, 260,000 of which have no water, 250,000 no gas, and 60,000 no electric current The action of a priest, the Abbé Pierre, who undertook to arouse the public conscience after more and more people had been found frozen to death in the streets of Paris, would indeed seem to fully bear out what has been said about Paris on that score.

After reading a report of conditions in a working class district in Brussels (“one of the most chromium- plated capitals in Europe”), the young king of Belgium made a secret six-hour tour of the district and “got a shock.” The priest who accompanied him said afterwards: “The king was distressed at what he saw,” and said that “it is a tragedy that humans should have to live in such conditions.” He visited 30 tenements. One housewife mistook the bespectacled, studious-looking king for a sanitary inspector. She showed him a broken-down lavatory shared by 17 families. “Look at that,” she told the king, “and to think the landlord has one in marble.”

What a correspondent (an estate agent) in the London Times (12.6.1956) said on the housing problem in another Welfare State, England, literally fits the situation in this country when he writes: “. . . several of the 50 families we have had to deal with in the last three months have been on a council list for anything between five and 12 years.” After describing the impossibility of wage-earners being able to buy a house, the correspondent says: “We have tried lately not to make our small society known, from despair at coping with any more cases of most cruel hardship; young couples turned out of their lodgings on arrival of a baby; husbands separated from their wives and children; families living crowded in one room, others in L.C.C. hostels for as much as three years. Every council in and around London sees the problem as of overwhelming urgency.”

There is probably not one of the “fair cities of the world” where the mass of the inhabitants are not herded together often in what can only be described as slums and suffer the physical and mental torment which such atrocious housing conditions bring in their train.

“Get children and lose your job”
It is not only the housing question that terrifies many women at the prospect of having children; it is the fear of losing their jobs or the difficulty of getting one, apart from numerous other considerations—all due to the fact of poverty. In their despair they resort to illegal operations, imploring doctors to perform them, with the result that when eventually found out, physicians and patients go to prison. In February this year a trial took place at the Vienna Court when no fewer than 300 women and a number of doctors had to stand trial for such illegal action. Under the heading: “Weeping women, grinning listeners,” the Arbeiter Zeitung reported how people outside the court fought with fists for seats. One can only imagine the ordeal of women having before the judge to answer embarrassing questions about the most intimate particulars of their married life. One has to bear in mind that there are women who have no parents, no home and no jobs and who threaten to commit suicide unless the doctor helps them. Again and again women bring children into the world in the open, because they have no homes, no money, no work. After reporting on one of these cases, the paper says: “Now the woman is in hospital. She gets food and has a bed. Then she will move with her child to a Central Children’s Home. But What then? She has no home.”

Child mortality
Dr. H. Czermak, of the Vienna University Clinic for Children, declared before the Society for Children’s Welfare that Austria showed the highest infantile mortality in West and Northern Europe. In this country, Dr. Czermak revealed, eight healthily born children die every day. One might ask what sense there is in preaching the increase of births and to punish women and doctors for interfering with the growth and development of new life when the economic conditions of the family make it impossible for the woman to do without the earnings from a job? Even the inveterate apologists for wage-slavery, such as the Arbeiter Zeitung, have to confess that the low wage earned by the husbands absolutely forces women to go to work. What to do with the children while the mother is at work, that is the problem. And what does the “Socialist” Party of Austria propose as a remedy for this and the other social problems? Socialism? Not on your life! Create more children’s hostels, where the poor things can be deposited while the mother is at work! And setting up a marriage and family advisory committee and service to repair broken and ill marriages!

“Our welfare workers can sing a very nasty song indeed of the conditions which they find in such marriages in which there are children. Most of the 5,000 children in the municipal institutions come from such marriages” “The shocking fact,” said the deputy mayor, “induced us to set up a committee.”

That these conditions are not confined to Austria, but prevail all over the capitalist world, was confirmed by the International Youth Aid Society, which stated that of 900 million children, 600 million are undernourished, badly clothed, insufficiently housed and not properly protected against illness.

Suicides in Austria
In a leading article under the heading “Died on the Welfare State,” Die Presse (19.4.1956) wrote:

“In the city of Vienna suicides are on the order of the day. In the last decades they have increased to such a frightful extent that the public scarcely takes notice of them. Two or three lines in the papers, often not even so much, coolly report that X, Y, Z could no longer cope with their conditions of existence mid saw no other way out than death. . . . Also, yesterday, one could read that a 65-year-old war invalid hanged himself in a room of the Health Insurance Premises. He had been sent from one department to another until he could no longer stand it and decided to end it all. . . . This case is sad proof that even the finest National Insurance Law, however cleverly it may be conceived and well meant, can never provide a solution of the social problems of our days, but brings the danger, like the innumerable other welfare, health-insurance and old age protection laws, to become a soulless mechanism, which in the end crushes those Whom they were intended to help.”

And under the heading: “Many suicides in Austria,” the Arbeiter Zeitung reported that in 25 countries, with a total of 400 million people, about 72,000 persons commit suicide every year. Austria is always found among the group topping the list, with Japan, Denmark and Switzerland. Whatever the reports say about causes, there is no doubt whatever that the overwhelming majority drift to suicide, just as they do to crime through poverty. And who does not know by now that the cause of poverty is Capitalism.

At the time of writing, a local theatre produces the drama “Poverty,” by Anton Wildgans, in which, among other working class catastrophies, a small postal clerk (another nationalized industry said to belong to the people) dies after an illness which was for his family an almost greater catastrophe than his death. Said a theatre critic: “The play verily has lost nothing of its poignant actuality.”

(To be continued).

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