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From The Socialist newspaper, 18 October 2003

Poland: An Explosion Of Class Struggle

IN RECENT months Poland has been swept by a wave of strikes and protests. The most spectacular is the struggle of the Silesian miners. They are protesting against plans by the Social Democratic (SLD) government to close four mines and cut 14,000 jobs.

Paul Newbery, Poland

Since the beginning of the 1990s, employment in the mines has been slashed from 450,000 to 142,000 jobs. Miners responded to the latest plans by organising road blockades in the industrial heartland of Silesia and occupying the mines facing closure.

On 12 September thousands of miners demonstrated in Warsaw. Attacked by riot police and water cannons, the miners answered with Molotov cocktails and a raid on the SLD party headquarters and the ministry of the economy.

Support for the miners is high in the Silesia region, where unemployment reaches 36%. There is now a prospect of linking the miners' struggle with protests of other workers.

Far from the rosy future promised just a few months ago during the European Union (EU) referendum in Poland, membership of the European Union will bring nothing but misery for Polish workers. Due to overcapacity in certain sectors of the European economy, part of the neo-liberal agenda of the EU is to cut production in Poland. Among those sectors affected are mining, steel and agriculture.

Capitalist cutbacks

European capitalists want to remove all barriers to the Polish market and at the same time impose limits on Polish production. Government spending is being slashed, and social services and the health service are being slaughtered.

In addition, many enterprises are facing bankruptcy due to the recession in Europe. As a result, thousands of workers have received no wages for months.

It's not surprising then that protests, strikes and factory occupations are springing up everywhere in Poland "like mushrooms after the rain" as the Polish saying goes.

One example is Tonsil electronics factory, where over 700 workers haven't been paid since May. Many workers have loans which they are unable to pay and face action by bailiffs. The company has been waiting for three months for 12 million zloties (2 million) in aid from the state Treasury.

In Ostrow Wielkopolski workers in the wagon factory organised an occupation to save their enterprise from bankruptcy.

This company was privatised a number of years ago and the new owners, who are suspected of having links with the Mafia, stand accused of siphoning off about 12 million zloties (2 million) from the company.

A few weeks ago when the company board met to discuss a resolution of the conflict, the owners were almost lynched by the workers.

One of the major problems facing the Polish workers' movement is the failure of union leaders to spread and generalise the struggle. However, last year, a major development was the formation of the All-Poland Protest Committee.

Workers' unity

This attempted to unite workers in struggle. For the first time since the restoration of capitalism, the demand for the renationalisation of privatised enterprises facing bankruptcy was put forward.

This demand represented a major change in the consciousness of workers. One of the beacons of struggle at that time was the occupation of Ozarow Cable factory just outside Warsaw.

The owner, a Polish businessman, had bought the factory in order to strip its assets. The occupation lasted over 300 days and was smashed by the use of a private security firm.

In recent days, the former workers of Ozarow have once more occupied the plant as a result of the failure of the factory owner to provide alternative employment for the sacked workers.

Marxists in Poland are fighting to build solidarity action and link up the many strikes and protests taking place in the country at the moment.

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