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From The Socialist newspaper, 2 September 2008

Poland: Biggest workers' demo since the 1990s

WARSAW CAME to a standstill for many hours as over 50,000 workers demonstrated in torrential rain last Friday (29 August).

Paul Newbery, GPR (CWI, Poland)

The demo was organised by Solidarity under the slogan "Decent work, decent life". It was also demanding an increase in the minimum wage and was against government plans to change the labour code and abolish the right to early retirement for many workers.

Rising food and energy costs are forcing thousands of workers into struggle for wage rises. Since unemployment has fallen in recent years, there is a new confidence and combativity among workers.

On the other hand, the Civic Platform government is planning a series of neo-liberal reforms and attacks on workers' rights, including the right for bosses to organise a lockout. These are the ingredients for a sharpening of the class struggle in Poland in the next period. The sheer size of Friday's demonstration is a reflection of this and shows that the Solidarity leadership had been forced into organising the demo by the mood from below.

Miners, steel workers and shipyard workers were well represented as usual, but there were also a lot of workers from private enterprises and younger workers, particularly women workers in their 20s and 30s, who made up 50% of some of the delegations. In the recent period Solidarity has recruited a lot of new workers in the private sector. This is a new, fresh layer which in many cases is entering into struggle for the first time.

However, some of the banners illustrate the contradictory mood among the workers. The banner of Stalowa Wola Steelworks read "Don't touch the Labour Code or Poles will touch you". Unfortunately a lot of Solidarity members identify themselves as Poles but not as workers because of the nationalist poison fed to them for many years.

On the demo the Solidarity leadership offered no lead. When the demonstrators reached the end of the route there was no rally - the delegations were just told to turn around and go home. In the Solidarity paper given out on the demo, the head of the Solidarity's Gdansk region even said they were fighting for the quicker privatisation of the three shipyards which are going bankrupt!

The Group for a Workers' Party (GPR - CWI, Poland) intervened in the demo. We were generally well received. We gave out 1,000 leaflets calling for a general strike. It wasn't enough - they disappeared within 15 minutes! We also sold 114 copies of our paper which had the headline: "Defend the Labour Code - for a one day general strike".

The same day, Jan Guz, leader of the OPZZ trade union federation spoke of the need to negotiate a compromise with the government, but warned that if a compromise solution can't be reached, the different paths of all the unions will meet up in a general strike.

The union bureaucracy is clearly feeling the pressure building up from below. With a number of strikes and demos planned for September and October, Poland faces a hot autumn.

For background, see article by Wojtek Orowiecki 'Strikes continue against rocketing food and fuel costs' on www.socialistworld.net

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