On 27 November Ed Maltby attended a small protest in front of the Polish Embassy in London in solidarity with workers and trade union activists who have been sacked from the Cegielski factory in Poznan.
The Cegielski plant is one of the best known factories in Poland. It produces various types of engines. This summer 20 per cent of workers of the factory were sacked.
On 23 October four thousand of workers demonstrated in Poznan against the layoffs in Cegielski.
The protest was organised by the Industrial Workers of the World. Bartek, a Polish comrade who is a member of the IWW and the Polish Anarchist Society in the UK, spoke to Ed.
We were demonstrating at the Polish Embassy because our comrades from the Workers Initiative union in Poland have been suffering repression from the Cegielski management and also from the government.
The government plans to completely privatise the Cegielski plant and other factories connected to the plant — which means closing Cegielski and a massive reduction in the workforce. The Workers Initiative union was the only union inside the plant that opposed all management plans from the beginning and fought inside factories and on the streets of Poznan city.
The union had gained quite wide support. That resulted in one of its members, Marcel Szary, being elected as a workers’ representative for three consecutive terms: in 2003, 2006 and 2009.
On November 3, 2009, a court found Marcel Szary guilty of organising and leading three wildcat strikes at Cegielski in 2008 and he was sentenced to a fine of 3,000 zl (730 euro).
Not only did the state prosecution demand the punishment of Szary, but so did the bosses at the plant — they wanted a ban on him from holding a workers’ representative position in any plant. The court ultimately decided to limit the punishment to a financial fine.
In mid October 2009 the WI union at Cegielski plant saw a massive surge of new members as a result of the growing conflict and radicalisation of the workforce. Management allowed the union to appoint four new stewards at the plant. A few days after, all of them were sacked.
One of the WI demands on the picket was to reinstate the sacked trade unionists immediately. What we know is that after negotiations management decided to allow them back to work. All fired workers were also members of the strike committee established by WI during the industrial dispute that started in August 2009. The other demands were to stop repression of the union activity in a plant, stop privatisation plans and halt redundancies.
What difficulties do trade unionists in Poland face? What measures are the government and the bosses taking against trade unionists?
The two biggest union federations — “Solidarnosc” and OPZZ — are both connected with political parties and are co-operating with big business. They are not really fighting for workers’ rights and not defending them against capitalism in Poland. Many of their members are hard working people misleaded by union bosses.
Only non-conformists, militant unions like Workers Initiative, are really standing up and to defending working class people. Radical, anti-capitalist unions have always suffered repression, both from the government and the bosses.
If you have family it’s really hard when you are sacked, or if you have to go to jail only because you are trying to organise and fight for workers. Capitalists always have privileges from government and they will use all kind of measures against the workers.
It is very popular in Poland now to use private security guards against striking workers. They are acting like police or even worse. They employ any brutal methods against workers (for example there were riots in Ozarów when police and private security guards clashed with workers occupying a factory on 28 November 2002).
Given the history of Stalinism, is it difficult to argue for revolutionary politics in Poland?
After many years of state rule by a “workers’” party, words like “working class”, “socialism” and “left”, have really negative meanings in society’s consciousness. Union leaders like Lech Walesa are recognised as figures who brought capitalism and independence for Poland. Peoples are feeling really disappointed in unions and left-wing parties.
On the other hand, society is starting to recognise the negative effects of capitalism and mass privatisation. Workers have no one who can defend them and they trust no bureaucratic unions and no political parties. That is why they have to start to organise themselves.
What can trade unionists do to support workers in Poland?
The first and most important thing is they must show class solidarity and show the Polish workers that they are not alone in this worldwide class conflict. Cooperation and real support can do a lot.
Does the Workers’ Initiative see itself as an alternative union, or does it work inside the existing unions? If it sees itself as an alternative union, why is this?
The WI union is not working inside any other unions. It is a completely independent union based on anarcho–syndicalist principles, made by truly working class people. WI stands against the model of organisation offered by bureaucratic unions because these are corrupted and not representative of working people. Only unions based on self-organisation and direct democracy, made by workers and for workers, can be a real alternative to the capitalist hierarchical model of economy.