Poland: Working class and youth protest

‘Militancy once again!’

The first article below looks at increased militancy and mass protests by workers, youth and the oppressed in Poland, and the second is a report of solidarity between workers in struggle.


Working class and youth protest

Just over half a year after parliamentary elections that brought right-wing nationalist and populist parties to power, the Polish working class is beginning to flex its muscles and go onto the offensive.

The last few weeks saw thousands of striking nurses and doctors forcing the Polish government to make massive concessions. But, despite the promises of huge wage rises next year, protests continue in over 90 hospitals, as doctors and nurses demand immediate rises.

The miners have also moved into action, demanding a share of the profits of the mining companies. Last year, the profits of three mining companies exceeded 250 million euros. On 5 June, there was a 2-hour strike in the mines when talks broke down.

Warsaw is now bracing itself for an invasion of miners on 14 June that could prove even bigger than last year’s demonstration of 10,000 miners. Then the protest against raising the retirement age for miners ended in battles with the police. However, this year even the police are threatening to organize action in support of their own wage claims, alongside fire-fighters and border guards. In addition, a isolated disputes are taking place in factories, up and down the country.

As if all this wasn’t enough, at the same time, school students and teachers are organizing protests all over the country against the nomination of the new Education Minister, Roman Giertych, leader of League for Polish Families (LPR). Giertych wants to introduce compulsory religion and ‘patriotism’ lessons into schools and cut the budget for scholarships for poor pupils. He is also against introducing compulsory pre-school for five-year-olds. A purge of educators and headmasters who represent more liberal views has already begun in the education sector.

Equality Parade

Also, around 5,000 people demonstrated on the Equality Parade, on 9 June, demanding an end to the discrimination of gays and lesbians. This represented a blow for the right-wing, which attempted to ban the march, as it did so last year, but failed after a ruling by the Constitutional Tribunal. The extreme nationalist, ‘All-Poland Youth’, the youth section of LPR, planned a counter-demonstration which they called off at the last moment claiming that Poles are only interested in the World Cup at the moment and not in demonstrating. Clearly they were counting on mobilising the hooligans! As it turned out, only around 150 fascists protested against the Equality Parade, well-protected behind eight lines of riot police. Despite the eggs thrown by the fascists, the only people with egg on their faces were the government.

However, recently there has been an increase in the number of fascist attacks against left-wing and anarchist activists. The fascists feel more confident since the right-wing won the elections, and reactionary comments from Giertych and his sidekicks only serve to encourage the fascists. A few weeks ago, fascists attempted to kill an anti-fascist in Warsaw who had appeared on the Polish ‘Redwatch’ website, which is connected with the British fascist organisation, ‘Blood and Honour’.

Despite the rise in reaction, the working class is beginning to move onto the offensive and show its militancy once again. In this situation, Group for a Workers’ Party (GPR-CWI) activists are raising the idea of the need for a general strike that could unite all these protests into a general anti-government protest.

Committee for the Aid and Defence of Victimised Workers

Defending Polish Car Workers

On 7 June, 100 activists of the Committee for the Aid and Defence of Victimised Workers (KPiORP) took part in pickets outside the Warsaw offices of four prominent Polish MPs. The protests were in defence of former workers of the bankrupt Daewoo-FSO car plant who have been fighting for unpaid wages and redundancy pay for the last 3 years.

The same day, KPiORP organised an information campaign in over 80 towns in Poland. Leaflets and brochures were given out, addressed to Poles intending to work abroad this summer. The leaflets explained the rights of Poles working in EU countries and encouraged them to contact trade unions abroad.

KPiORP was set up at the beginning of this year in response to the sackings of trade union activists from different sectors and different parts of the country. The initiative includes branches of various trade unions, the whole of the trade union ‘Sierpien 80’, which is based in the mines of Silesia, as well as Group for a Workers’ Party (GPR), and a few other left wing groups and activists. KPiORP’s aim is to unite workers from all the trade unions in the common struggle for workers’ rights and also to provide legal aid and help to individual workers, when necessary.

Traveling miners

An important feature of all the pickets and demonstrations that KPiORP organises is the presence of miners, who travel all across the country to support the protests. Likewise, on 7 June, Silesian miners joined the Warsaw pickets in defence of Warsaw car workers.

During the protest outside the offices of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of the governing Law and Justice Party, a GPR member, speaking on behalf of KPiORP, explained how 300 of the Daewoo-FSO car workers were cynically transferred to a newly formed and under-funded subsidiary of Daewoo-FSO, which had been earmarked for bankruptcy from the very beginning. Within a year, the new company stopped paying wages, and when the workforce was made redundant, no redundancy money was paid out. These workers have been fighting in the courts for the last three years, to no effect.

The GPR member said,“Formally everything was in accordance with the law, so I ask you, in whose interests does the law operate? Do we have law and justice in this country? No! Law and Justice is in Kaczynski’s office and in the Polish Parliament, but it isn’t our law and justice. It’s law and justice for the rich, for the banks and big business.”

He added that KPiORP demands not only the unpaid wages and redundancy pay for the former FSO workers, but also an end to the privatisation process in Poland. “All enterprises facing redundancy must be renationalised under democratic control of the workers and the local community. We demand law and justice for workers.”

The pickets received coverage in the national press and in different parts of the country many KPiORP activists appeared on local TV and radio over the last week. GPR and KPiORP activists are now building for KPiORP’s 24 June demonstration against the extreme nationalist Education minister, Roman Giertych. There will be a big mobilisation by the miners organised in Sierpien 80, as well as teachers in the trade union ZNP, and secondary school and university students. The main slogans of the demonstration are against religious indoctrination in schools – for a secular education system – against neo-liberal policies, and for a welfare state.

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June 2006