Workers Push Forward while the Post and Solidarity Slap them in the Face
On April 8, 2017, a couple of thousand postal workers from all over Poland converged in Warsaw, demanding raises, reorganization of their work regions and the reinstatement of two fired colleagues.
Workers have been coordinating outside of the mainstream, representative unions, which, in their opinion, do not represent their interests. A number of actions, including work stoppages of different kinds, have taken place across Poland in the past year. We have been coordinating workers at the national level and organized two meetings, in Wroclaw and then in Warsaw, where postal workers from all over the country took part. At the first meeting in Wroclaw, a couple of months ago, demands were formulated and later ratified by groups of workers from many cities. It was agreed that the demands would be sent to the post office, with a call for a response and that decentralized protests would be held all over Poland on March 16. Workers agreed that if there was no response to the demands, that things would only escalate.
On April 1-2 the ZSP held its 11th Congress and 10th Anniversary event in Warsaw. The event took place on Sunday and consisted of presentations and films of different actions that ZSP organized over the years. These included not only many workplace conflicts and a few strikes, but also we presented some other types of activity such as anti-militarist actions and protests against price increases and for free public transport. This was interesting for some newer people who didn't know about a lot of these social actions. There was also a discussion about how ZSP is different than other unions and what the role of certain unions actually are today. This was important as in the hall were a few people who were betrayed by other unions and who could speak directly to that (as well as a few people from a couple of those other unions who maybe were interested in what we had to say). Finally, there was a presentation of some current conflicts, such as at the Post Office or Polomarket where the workers involved talked about their situations and struggles. One of the speakers was recently fired from the Post Office for his role in organizing protests and another is being repressed by Polomarket for speaking out about the working conditions. (The firm has brought a criminal case against him.) We spoke about the need for solidarity in these and other struggles.
10 Years of ZSP
ZSP was founded on March 31, 2007. Since then it has evolved to become a unique force in this country and a new model of workers' organization and direct action.
The organization was founded in Gliwice by a small group of a dozen like-minded people who saw the need for an anarchosyndicalist organization in Poland. The social conditions for creating such an organization were against us: the ideas of the organization, in many ways, went against the grain of everything people thought and the patterns of behaviour in society. What's more, such issues were present in the movements we had been involved with. Over the past decade, the organization has proven not only to be a reference for ideas, but also an example of workers' action in practice. The union has accomplished a lot in this period, including the organization and support of successful strikes outside the collaborationist schemes of the state and capital, the resolution of dozens of work conflicts where normal unions could do nothing and most recently, inspiring the coordination of workers against the treachery of the mainstream unions.
The union also has gone into areas that others had not (although later, some others followed). It was the first to help coordinate some actions of immigrant workers and react to the exploitation of Polish workers abroad. It made actions and campaigns concerning agency workers and even workers who had no contracts. It also sought to provide a platform for categories of workers who are normally underpresented in union activity. The union has a large female membership and many of its members are persons with disabilities.
Besides its activities with workers, the union as been active in other areas, significantly, in organizing tenants and pointing out the role of politicians and those working for the government in privatization scandals. Members of ZSP also are active in work concerning anti-fascism and anti-nationalism and in general work against all forms of discrimination.
On the weekend of our anniversary, we will celebrate our Congress and a public meeting where we will look back at our history and speak about current struggles. We are hoping that sometime later in the year we can compile a review of some of the more important actions.
Finally, we would like to send our best wishes to comrades all over the world from the International Workers' Association, with whom we share mutual aspirations. In particular, those from Spain who are struggling to maintain and rebuild the anarchosyndicalist movement in that country after the wrong turns and verticalization taken by some. We point out that at one point, at the beginning of our history, some comrades in Spain represented a model for us while many people around us got lost in top-down, legalistic practices, infected by collaborationism, electoralism and populism. We hope that the power of our common ideas will stand up against the current tide and that we all find new strength to go forward with our struggles.
On March 23, the HR department of the Polish Post Office sent a letter to the management of the branches instructing them to bother workers about the necessity of caring for the good of the employer. This refers to the activities and protests of postal workers which the management has been trying to squash through scare tactics and repression, including the dismissal of one mailman and the possible dismissal of another.
The letter states:
In relation to the posts put on social media and the Intranet which have offensive comments about managers or their co-workers and into order to extinguish operational risks connected to the workers showing posters about raises during working hours, with the logo of the post office in the background, we inform that the above actions constitute a serious violation of work duties. These violations are set out in art. 100 para.2, pt. 4 of the Labor Code, which is the duty to care about the work place, which is connected with the widely understood interests of the employers (not only financial, which is connected to the obligation that the worker be loyal to the employer.
In light of the above, we ask that you make the workers aware and to take disciplinary measures against those who personally took part in such actions. The workers should be made aware of the fact that the good name and interests of the Post Office have been violated and to inform them that the employer, in justified situations, can terminate the employment agreement for reasons related to the fault of the worker.
A self-organized movement has revolted against the mainstream unions and is set to continue despite repression.
On March 16, a couple of thousand postal workers from 22 cities in Poland organized the largest decentralized workers actions outside the mainstream unions in recent history. Protests started at 7AM and took place at different hours in the day, with a few reaching several hundred participants. The main demands of the workers are a raise of 1000 zloties and reorganization of the regions.
The working conditions at the post office are tragic, especially for mail carriers. Wages hover just slightly above minimum wage, meaning the basic pay one takes home is a little less than 350 euros. Many mail carriers who have worked 15, 20 or even 30 years earn basically the same. What's worse is that the conditions are hard and most are overworked. With wages at supermarkets now being even 1000 zloties higher, it is very hard to find new people to work there. It is probably for this reason that the government has decided to use prison labor to make up for the shortage.
On March 12, protests were held outside of POLO Markets in Unislaw, Osielsko and Bydgoszcz. Workers demand that working hours are properly accounted and paid for, that workers are treated with more respect, without harrassment and that health and safety measures are followed. Former workers also have concrete claims against the supermarket chain, especially for unpaid overtime.
At the beginning of the year, current and former employees of the market organized themselves and composed a list of demands. In February, three pickets were held in Bydgoszcz. The supermarket chain responded badly by trying to intimidate workers, ordering them not to contact ZSP, sending spies to the demonstration to film workers and by bringing a criminal case against one former employee for supposedly slandering the company. At the same time, as we initiated a court case for unfair dismissal of one woman, the company stated they would like to talk to her – but were not exactly eager to talk to the union about all the cases. Members of the union therefore went to the corporate headquarters of the supermarket. After talks there, the supermarket publically declared in press statements that it would like to settle accounts with the dismissed worker and offer appropriate compensation.
We are not sure what the market was thinking, but the union considers that numerous people had their rights violated and that the chain should pay them money owed. We have heard rumors that they were „surprised” that we still protest after their gesture towards only one of the affected workers.
Members of the union will meet this week with the company to settle the first case, but also to discuss the rest of the claims and demands. We see that they are trying to separate everything and use some typical manoeuvres but the conflict is not over until we all cases are treated and changes are made. The workers have stated that they are willing to sit down and talk with the chain, but if the supermarket does not show good will, the protests will continue.
On March 3, an action was held at Polomarket heaquarters in Giebnia, to discuss the demands of former and present workers at the market who have organized to improve working conditions and rectify the situation of several former employees.
A few weeks ago, workers presented a long list of problems in the supermarket chain, including problems with working hours (having to work on days off, unpaid overtime, incorrect documentation, forcing people with disabilities to work more hours than they should, problems with taking guaranteed breaks and several health and safety issues). A work inspection confirmed most of the important claims. Despite the fact that we possess the protocols and quoted them several times, Polomarket keeps claiming in the media that the inspectors DIDN'T find any problems, which is not true. In addition, they have made various threats related to this and have initiated a lawsuit against R., one of the workers concerned.
Upon announcing that the workers would take action, a series of pickets was held in Bydgoszcz, where the problems occured, in the middle of February. The protests met with various attempts at intimidating workers, who were warned not to talk to us, etc. The company complained to Facebook about the event we posted about the protests and it was removed. The protests were invigilated by a number of spies who followed the workers to different actions, menacing and filming them. Journalists were warned against taking photos that clearly show the name of the supermarket and its logo. It seems that Polomarket has chosen to deal with these problems by denial and harrassment instead of dialogue with the workers. Despite all that they did to try and frighten the workers, they publically claimed that „nobody contacted them” and they were waiting for a chance to negotiate with the workers.
On February 18, a group of current and former employees of POLOMarket protested at three locations in Bydgoszcz. Recently workers in that city organized themselves in order to improve both the working conditions in the POLOMarket chain and, they hope, inspire other workers to organize in their workplaces.
Among the problems the workers wish to address are practices which ZSP has encountered in other supermarkets as well: forced overtime work which is not recorded or paid, making people with disabilities work above the legal limits, forcing people to work without breaks and various health and safety violations, including not providing training on some equipment such as forklifts. Currently the Prosecutor is also checking whether there are fake signatures on some time sheets: workers claim that there were falsified documents. Some other violations relate to health concerns since workers were forced to take expired meat home and grind it up to bring back to sell.
In addition, the workers disagree with how one woman was fired and consider it to be an unfair dismissal.
The former workers have claims against the market, including unpaid overtime and the current workers would like the aforementioned practices to be stopped. As more workers join in, a more complete list of demands will be sent to the market.
POLOMarket has already shown a strong reaction to news of the union and the planned protests. Workers received instructions not to speak to or contact us, which only meant that more people found out about it and started to write to the union. Lawyers for the chain have sent threatening letters to ZSP and managed to get Facebook to remove the protest event. As we understand, journalists were also warned by the market, who falsely claims that the workers' complaints have not been confirmed. Finally, several spies were sent to the protests to film the workers and try to intimidate them.
The workers plan to continue their organizing efforts in the market and new actions will be held in a few weeks.
On January 22 we organized a protest at Miau Cafe in Warsaw. Miau Cafe hired staff to work and never gave them work contracts: the women who worked there did not have payments for social security, vacation or sick leave and were made to work overtime. They finally gave notice due to the negligence of the owner to provide legal working conditions. The workers decided that they would like to protest in order to highlight the problems in the hospitality sector, where some of them still work or planned to be employed in the future.
The owner of the cafe, in response to articles about the situation, tried to blame the girls as being "bad workers" and falsely claimed that she had given them contracts. We are calculating how much they are owed for unpaid overtime and lost benefits and demand that these are paid. Protests should continue until the owner regulates what is owed. Moreover, anybody who she employs in the future should have a proper work contract.
The cafe had initially gained a lot of financial support from cat lovers because the cafe has a few cats living there. Exploiting people's love of cats to make more money, the owner reacted to the scandal by posting stories of an epilectic cat and other cat charity actions in order to try to gain sympathy as a saviour of cats. Today however, protestors saw a very angry and violent woman, who tried to grab the microphone from one comrade and whose friends started violent incidents, both at the protest and afterwards, when they tried to ambush a group of people leaving. Luckily nobody got provoked by the owner or her friends, who gave to support the person who denied workers their basic rights in order to put more money in her pocket.
People who came to support the protest said that they would be back and will keep up the protest until the demands are met.
Statement of Mail Carriers from Wroclaw
Due to the fact that things are going worse and worse in the Polish Post, we are forced to take concrete action. On January 14, an initiative group, Mail Carriers Wroclaw, met and decided to coordinate actions between the different post offices. We plan different types of actions and we intend to fight until we win, using any means necessary.
We invite all employees of the Polish Post from the whole country to fight and create a horizontal, non-bureaucratic, non-party structure.
We will inform you of future concrete actions.
Mail Carriers from Wroclaw