Poland: New president – new round of attacks

Last Friday, 6 August, Komorowski (Civic Platform) was sworn in as the new president in Poland.

The presidential election in Poland took place against the background of a new series of attacks against the working class. Meanwhile, the most brutal attacks are yet to come. Although Poland’s economy grew faster than any other in Europe last year, the main feature of this period was a sharp economic slowdown which destroyed hundreds of thousands of jobs. In this short time unemployment rose from 8% to 12%. Many workers were forced to accept wage cuts or a wage freeze and a large part of the workforce was pushed out of permanent employment into casual employment on temporary "rubbish" contracts. The sharp slowdown in the economy seriously affected the government’s budget too, since the state’s income from taxes fell dramatically. Desperate to keep the budget deficit under control, the government embarked on a massive privatisation programme, selling off almost all the remaining state firms.

On the other hand, after the hard school of 20 years of capitalism, Polish workers have learned that privatisation means more job losses and attacks on workers rights. This is why there has been resistance and struggle against privatisation over the last 12 months. Unfortunately, the leaders of the main trade unions have been either unwilling or unable to lead a fightback and organise a united struggle against privatisation.

However, it is clear that in the years ahead privatisation will not keep the budget deficit and public finances as low as the neoliberals from Civic Platform and the parasitic players on the market would like. That is why Civic Platform is planning even more far-reaching attacks, which include widespread social cuts, the privatisation of the health service and raising the retirement age to 67 and possibly even 70! These will be the most serious attacks on ordinary working people for many years.

Neither Komorowski nor Kaczyński

The victory for Komorowski in the presidential elections strengthens the Civic Platform government. We can expect that Civic Platform will speed up their attacks on working people.

But voting for Jarosław Kaczyński, the other candidate in the second round of the elections, was no solution either. Despite his populism, Kaczyński has proved time and again that he is no friend of the working class. Kaczyński’s government was a government for big business and the rich rather than for working people. During his government there was the biggest nurses’ protest for many years. Kaczyński set the police on the nurses and then refused to meet their representatives, showing in this way his contempt for ordinary, hard-working people. Kaczyński’s government lowered taxes for the rich and even when in opposition, Law and Justice supported the government’s anti-working class “anti-crisis package”. When Prime Minister, Kaczyński appointed a neoliberal finance minister in his government whilst his brother supported the neoliberal European Union and signed the anti-worker Lisbon Treaty. Despite Kaczyński’s posturing, at the end of the day he will also give in to market pressures. Already his opposition to privatisation is weakening. The choice between Komorowski and Kaczyński was like choosing between an madman with a sharp axe and a thug with a baseball bat. Of course, some prefer to be killed by a blunt instrument, but GPR (CWI in Poalnd) said: “Neither Komorowski nor Kaczyński”.

In the first round of the presidential elections Napieralski stood for the SLD, a party which presents itself as being like the socialdemocracy. However, it is a big mistake to call the SLD “left”. When in power, SLD conducted neoliberal policies. The SLD governments negotiated Poland’s entry into the European Union and NATO, waged war in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as implementing pro-business, anti-worker policies. SLD also initiated serious attacks on the labour code. In reality, there are few differences between SLD and Civic Platform, which could be seen in December 2008 when SLD supported the liquidation of early retirement entitlements of almost one million workers.

In order to stop the attacks, the Polish working class needs its own strong, fighting organisations. That means workers need democratic and representative trade unions prepared to put up a real, effective fight, as well as their own political party which will provide a political backbone and voice to working class struggles. The GPR believes that such a party should be a place where various tendencies on the left can freely debate and present their ideas and programmes without fear of sanctions. In such an open and democratic atmosphere, the working class can discuss and develop the strategy, tactics and programme needed to meet the tasks facing the workers’ movement.

To be able to defend the interests of working people and youth the GPR believes that such a party needs a socialist programme which could be a real alternative to the crisis caused by capitalism. The foundation of this would be nationalisation of the largest companies and the banking sector which together make up the major part of the economy. These nationalised companies should be under democratic workers’ control and management. Instead of the chaos of the market, a democratic plan of production drawn up with the active involvement of society would ensure production to meet the needs of society instead of for profit. Such a socialist society would be in sharp contrast to the stalinist regimes, where the ruling bureaucracies until the end of the 80s implemented their dictatorships on the working class.

Bogusław Ziętek and the PPP

In the first round of the presidential election was only one candidate that presented a step towards such an alternative. Whilst not a fully developed and finished socialist programme, nevertheless the manifesto of Bogusław Ziętek, candidate of the more militant trade union August 80 and Polish Labour Party, was an important step in the right direction. His most important demands include the following:

* immediate withdrawal of the Polish Army from Afghanistan

* introduction of a 35-hour week without loss of pay

* opposition to the commercialisation of the health service

* opposition to privatisation

* workers’ self-management of socialised enterprises and social control by the workers of the activities of the enterprises

Unfortunately this manifesto remained only on the website whilst its demands were not mentioned during the election meetings. Instead of the ideas from his manifesto, Ziętek proposed solutions which suggest that it is possible to convince capitalists to treat workers better and respect principles of social justice by implementing appropriate mechanisms in the current economic system. We believe that Ziętek’s campaign should have focused above all on the solutions suggested in the manifesto. The economic and social problems are rooted in capitalism, which is why only those demands which are directed at abolishing capitalism can be a real alternative.

Despite the limited number of votes (30,000) Ziętek got in this highly polarised election such election campaigns can be used to spread the idea of a new mass workers’ party and redevelop a strong force to defend the interests of the working class and the youth in Poland. The main field to build such a party however will be the class struggle in the coming months. August 80 and the PPP will have to show, that they are prepared to give a lead and organise the fight back.