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On the Polish Women's Strike

The ZSP-IWA has been taking part in protests against the possible introduction of draconian anti-abortion laws. These laws would mean a total ban on abortion, even in cases where the baby would be stillborn or the mother could die, in cases where the woman was a child, the victim of rape or incest. It would criminalize not only abortion since miscarriages would be viewed as suspect, require an investigation and also a possible prison sentence. Birth control would also come under fire.

The proposals were made through a citizen's bill, which hundreds of thousands of people supported. An opposing bill was also sent to Parliament which would liberalize abortion rights. However, there was not enough support for it and it was thrown out. Despite the fact that some politicians are trying to make political capital on opposing the total ban, there are few that support more liberal laws. There is some division though in the ruling party and they plan to work on a less drastic tightening of the laws which would still allow abortion in cases of rape, incest or serious threat to a woman's health, but not in cases where a baby would have serious birth defects or might be born dead.

In response to this situation, many protests have been held in Poland. Most attracted large crowds for local conditions. Another idea was to call for a women's strike. Like the lmmigrant's Strike in UK, this was an idea rather pushed by the media and not the result of any action of labour organizations. Unlike the completely failed idea in the UK, this idea has gathered some support and it is likely that some workplaces will be shut down, at least for part of the day.

Inside the ZSP there was some discussion and critical comments about the lack of a real worker-led economic strike and the cross-class nature of the action. It has happened that the bosses of some small businesses have decided to close and let worker's have a day off. In a situation where worker direct action has been on the decline for years and where we constantly support the idea of a general strike to force change, we would like to still stress that working people must organize themselves and take decisive action. This is really not what is happening in this case as labor is not participating in any way that could make a strong impact. However, we do know that some organized groups of workers will be participating.

It should be pointed out that the largest union in Poland, Solidarity, has very strong ties to the church. In recent years there has been increased cooperation between some unions or high-placed union officials and fascists. (ZSP has twice experienced Solidarity officials sending fascist goons on us.) There are also many ties between this union and the conservatives in government.

On the other hand, few officials from other unions have spoken out either, and when they have, this has not usually been accompanied by any attempts to organize real strikes. That is because they will be following the restrictive laws on strikes. What's more is that there is one professional group where a lot of women would take part: teachers. However, the OPZZ federation have informed them that they are not legally allowed to take off. (The idea of the action actually was that women call in sick or take a day off.) OPZZ have informed teachers that they can go protest after work.

Some unions of ZSP have declared support for women who might be repressed for their participation in the strike.

Despite the lack of organized labour efforts, we see a lot of support for this action for Polish conditions. This needs to be highlighted because this is a place where huge injustices and disastrous policies have become the norm but there has been too little social response.

Unfortunately, we also see some political parties trying to make political capital on these events. The media which has promoted it is also trying to cast certain individuals as the leaders, which is part of their ongoing political project. During the Warsaw protest, many parties took the stand to make speeches and women whistled, booed and heckled.

The ZSP supports the grassroots actions of women, organized outside of these parties. However, we would like to see the action extend and workers use more of their potential. In addition, we support the radicalization of forms of protest. Mass sick-ins may be a breakthrough for our local conditions, where labour is passive, but a stronger message needs to be sent. What's more, people need to see the possibilities of mass action – something that has been lacking in recent years in this country.

On Monday, members of our union around Poland will be striking and protesting. However, our presence may take different forms in different cities. We have criticized how some parties are trying to take over the protests with their organized presence. Many of the women involved have asked participants not to behave in such a way (although there are different approaches). In some places like Warsaw, where the protest can turn into a political circus, comrades have decided to keep organizational flags and banners to a minimum but to go with black flags without organization names.

Below is a translation of our the Warsaw Multibranch Union's leaflet for tomorrow:

„ZSP strongly protests against attempts to introduce a draconic law that would completely outlaw abortion and attempts to sabotage gynecology. These questions are up to the individual and the government has no right to interfere.

We support the radicalization of protests in this situation, so that they become really strong. We support women who want to protest in an organized way, organized from below.

At the same time that efforts are being made to force women to give birth at any cost, many of us face real problems with supporting our families. It is often a struggle just to survive. Many public institutions are in tragic state. Those are the results of neoliberalism and subjugation. Many families lack access to day care, education is underfunded and privatized, health care is in crisis and public housing is falling apart. The conditions we live in are often indecent.

As a union, we are fighting not only for social justice and equality, but also for individual freedom. Our struggles is against both the state and capitalism. It is the state that takes away our freedom to decide over our own lives and which represses those who think another way. Neoliberal politics attack us working people every day. This also has very negative consequences for women which affect their health and quality of life. Capitalists and those in power do not respect our right to a decent life.

It is not enough to change the government since the problems lie in governance itself. Currently, some are trying to gain political capital on the situation. Among them are the same people who supported the anti-social neoliberal policies that have harmed so many, especially women. Regardless of their position on this particular question, we are not and will never be on the same side of the barricade with them.

It's time to rise up against a system that takes away our right to decide about our private lives. Fight for your right to choose!”

We also would like to thank comrades from around the world who will be protesting in solidarity.

L. from ZSP Mulitbranch Union, Warsaw