[Marxism] [Trotskyist Fraction] Mass workers' mobilization in Poland
Juan Andres Gallardo
juanagallardo at gmail.com
Tue Sep 24 09:25:50 MDT 2013
*Mass workers' mobilization in Poland*
September 17, 2013
By Juan Andrés Gallardo
On Saturday, September 14, more than 100,000 Polish working women and men
marched through the streets of Warsaw, the capital, to protest against the
anti-popular measures that the government of the center-right Prime
Minister, Donald Tusk, has been implementing, and the discontent created by
the steep economic downturn that the country is going through.
The mobilization was part of a four-day protest (September 11-14) in
different cities, called by the majority union federations, that culminated
in Saturday's mass march against a series of measures taken by the
government and, especially, against the recently-approved work
flexibilization law that does away with the eight-hour day and directly
attacks the workers' union organization.
*Two years of neoliberal austerity*
The government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk, from the center-right Civic
Platform Party, has been implementing a brutal austerity plan, that, in the
last two years, included raising the retirement age to 67 years
(previously, it was 60 years for women and 65 for men), the announcement of
a reform of the pension system and the recently approved modification of
the Labor Code, that was what unleashed the current mobilizations.
Three months ago, the Parliament approved a series of changes in the Labor
Code and the law on unions, that eliminate the guarantee of an eight-hour
workday, leaving open the possibility that the companies will take the
workday up to a maximum of 78 hours a week, without paying for the extra
This work flexibilization law allows the firms to increase the workdays,
according to the production tempos, up to a total of 78 hours a week, while
they would reduce the workday at other times of the year. This means an
enormous transfer of money from the workers' pockets to those of the
businessmen, since, during the lengthened days, they have no obligation to
pay for extra hours, while during the period of shortened days, the law
permits them to pay their workers only the minimum wage.
But the law does not stop there, but directly attacks the unions and the
organization of the workers, by allowing the businessmen to be able to
negotiate these new conditions individually with each worker or even to be
agreed upon with a "representative of the workers from a company
committee." These company committees would be elected according to the
regulations established by the businessmen themselves (that is, they would
be a type of yellow unions set up by the employers and at their service),
the representatives of which would not be responsible to the workers, nor
would they have a right to initiate collective bargaining.
That is, the ground is being prepared to undermine the ability of the
unions to negotiate, by weakening and fragmenting them.
*Discontent makes itself felt*
This most recent attack on the labor conditions of the working class was
the straw that broke the camel's back and forced the leaderships of the
majority unions of OPZZ and Solidarity to call at least the recent days of
protest, although not a strike.
The discontent expressed on the streets of Warsaw last weekend has a more
profound reason in the steep downturn that the Polish economy is
undergoing. After two decades of uninterrupted growth, Poland's GDP tumbled
last year, showing its vulnerability in the face of the European crisis
(Poland entered the European Union in 2004, although not the Eurozone, and
the slowed down German economy is its main commercial partner) .
Large-scale layoffs have multiplied in the most recent period, to the
rhythm of the fall in growth, that went from 4.5% of GDP in 2011, to 1.9%
in 2012 and to only 0.1% in the first quarter of this year. This triggered
unemployment, that reached 14.4% in February of this year, especially
affecting young people.
However, the economy is not the only thing that is plummeting; the rate of
approval of Tusk's government, that plunged to its lowest levels since the
government took office six years ago, has also fallen steeply. Right now,
this disappointment with Tusk's government has been capitalized on by the
Law and Justice nationalist opposition party, headed by the former Prime
Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski.
*The role of the union leaderships*
Since Jaruzelski's resignation in 1990 and the process of capitalist
restoration that had already been developing, the Polish workers have seen
their wages and the quality of their working conditions fall constantly.
However, the leaderships of the majority unions have been incapable of
calling a general strike in the last 25 years.
They did not do it in 2007, during the big nurses' strike, that questioned
both their working conditions and the healthcare system as a whole, and
they did not call the general strike, when the increase in the retirement
age was announced, nor during the mobilizations against the government's
policy in September 2012.
Facing the current attack, they found themselves forced to call the recent
day of struggle, but, although they are making threats, they still refuse
to call a strike that will unify all the demands and aim at Tusk's
It is obvious that the union leaderships of OPZZ and Solidarity are not
only lagging behind the level of attack imposed by the government, but
lagging behind the dissatisfaction expressed among the workers and the
Polish people, in view of the economic downturn, the increase of
unemployment and the attack on their historic conquests.
The government and businessmen of Poland have been catching up with the
adjustment applied by the rest of the states of the European Union, and
they have increasingly tried to unload the effects of the economic crisis
onto the backs of the workers; however, the mass mobilization of recent
days shows that it still remains to be seen whether they will be able to do
it, without confronting the resistance of the workers and the people.
 Poland entered the European Union in 2004. By implementing a policy of
economic liberalization, it benefited from the entry of money through
foreign investment that permitted it to have a high growth rate, during the
first 8 years, as well as the possibility of manipulating its currency to
confront the crisis, by having remained outside of the Eurozone. But the
European crisis and a combination of the economic downturn of its main
commercial partners, next to domestic political problems, has led to the
current situation that, although it did not reach a recession, is a matter
of a steep fall in growth that Poland has had during the most recent
period. It is anticipated that the growth of the Polish economy will be as
much as 1% in 2013, its worst performance since it joined the European
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