Poland: Thousands join ‘Hands off the Labour Code!’ demonstration

Donald Tusk government and bosses fear united workers’ struggle

Two thousand trade unionists took to the streets of Warsaw, on 20 June, to protest against the government’s proposed changes to the Labour Code. The demonstration was organised by the Committee for the Defence and Aid of Repressed Workers (KPiORP), under the slogan, “Enough repression and exploitation! Hands off the Labour Code!” Apart from a sizeable delegation of miners and steelworkers from the trade union August 80, there were also delegations from Workers’ Initiative, Solidarnosc ’80, Solidarnosc and OPZZ unions. The demonstration was also supported by groups of tenants and pensioners.

GPR banner on the protest

Besides the KPiORP demo, on the same day 300 shipyard workers from the legendary Gdansk shipyard demonstrated to try to save their jobs. There was also a protest of 500 health workers from epidemiology clinics and, a day earlier, railway workers from the Solidarnosc union demonstrated over early retirement.

In 2007, the number of strikes and workers’ protests was the highest this decade and this figure increased in the first half of 2008. New layers of workers are entering into struggle for decent pay and working conditions. Protests have rocked not only the mining industry, but also hospitals, the post office, public transport and even supermarkets. This is what the government and the bosses are afraid of – a united struggle of workers. This is the reason for the campaign against trade unions in the media and the attacks on workers’ rights.

Tusk’s aims

Donald Tusk’s neo-liberal government – under the orders of the Confederation of Private Employers, ‘Lewiatan’ – wants to destroy fighting trade unions and take away their right to strike. Tusk wants to make it easier to fire employees, by making the Labour Code “flexible. He wants to take away the right to early retirement for railway workers, power workers and building workers. These changes to the Labour Code and the Law on trade unions and collective bargaining are the most drastic since capitalist restoration in 1989. However, they are only the first steps in plans to nip in the bud the reawakening workers’ movement and remove ‘restrictions’ for the dictatorship of capital.

Speaking at 20 June Warsaw workers’ rally, Boguslaw Zietek, leader of August 80, called on all trade unions to unite in a joint struggle in defence of workers’ rights: “This isn’t a scenario for a few weeks: only a united trade union movement can defend the Labour Code”.

Florian Nowicki, member of the Group for a Workers Party (GPR), the Polish section of the CWI, addressed the protesters in the name of KPiORP. He attacked the proposal to change the right to strike, which aims to make it practically impossible to organise a legal strike, and he called for a united struggle of all trade unions.

The demonstration dealt with many issues. Alongside demands which were strictly connected with the labour movement – demands against successive attempts at limiting workers’ rights, demands to raise the minimum wage, defence of the right to early retirement for those groups of workers which enjoy such a right (and the extension of this right to other groups such as nurses), an improvement in working conditions in supermarkets, and restrictions on work agreements not bound by the provisions of the Labour Code – demonstrators also raised demands connected with tenants’ rights and also the problems of pensioners (the abolition of income tax on pensions and benefits).

“Don’t bite the boot that kicks you out”

GPR played an active role in building for the demonstration. Our members contacted trade unionists representing workers from various sectors of the economy. We also put up posters advertising the demonstration and we took responsibility for a range of organisational matters. On the demonstration, Group for a Workers Party (CWI), made its presence felt. We marched together, in one block, behind our two banners and gave out hundreds of leaflets. Norbert Zadora, GPR member and Chair of the Czestochowa branch of August 80, spoke to the demo in the name of GPR. His lively speech was met with loud cheers of approval: “Prime Minister Tusk and Deputy Prime Minister Pawlak – don’t bite the hand that feeds you. But remember one more proverb – don’t bite the boot that kicks you out”. Zadora called on trade unions to organise a general strike, “from the mines of Silesia to the shipyards of Pomerania.”

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June 2008