Pracujesz na umowie śmieciowej? Możemy pomóc!

Postal Workers' Protest in Warsaw

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.

The basic salary of mail carriers in Poland is about 2100 zloties, gross, which is less than 500 euros. That means about 350 euros in take home pay – even for those with 20 or more years of work. In order to supplement their income, mail carriers are expected to do other work, that the post office pressures them into doing – from selling insurance, to candy bars and candles, to checking gas meters. By lugging around gadgets and acting as door-to-door salespeople, some people manage to earn „bonuses”. At the same time, the post office is terribly understaffed, some mail carriers have huge regions and few are able to complete their work without overtime, which is usually unpaid.

On March 16, about 2000 workers from 22 cities took part in the protests. Prior to the protests, the management of the post office and members of trade unions tried to frighten and intimidate workers, threatening to fire people, telling others that the protests were illegal, etc. etc. There were ridiculous claims made that since the „representative unions” agreed not to hold protests, that the protests went against the Act on Unions and the Labour Code. Some workers in Silesia managed to record threats from the management.

After the protests, two mailmen were fired, Klaudiusz from Piekary Slaskie near Katowice and Rafal from Wolomin, near Warsaw. There were big protests in both cities – over 300 people in Katowice and almost 300 in Warsaw. The Post Office wanted to send a message. At the same time, it published an official thank you to the representative unions for not taking part in the protest. A couple of days later, on March 18, the Post Office met with the representative unions, Solidarity and the Union of Postal Workers, and concluded an agreement on introducing a system of bonuses, instead of any pay rise. They also employed a number of prisoners to work in Lublin.

The workers called for another national meeting in Warsaw in response. Although the meeting was organized with less than one week's notice, people from all over the country attended. They expressed their support and solidarity with the repressed workers and resolved that they would stand behind any new victims of repression. They also spoke about the necessity of making formal organizational structures and since then, discussion has been going about about the principles. They also called for the organization of a national protest in Warsaw for April 8.

Between this meeting and the protest, the Post Office was very active on the PR front, releasing announcement after announcement about how they were improving working conditions. The details of the new bonus system were released, infuriating workers. Instead of any pay raise, three different types of bonuses are on offer. Most workers feel that this is just a slap on the face, since they will not be able to make these bonuses. One bonus is for the whole team and means that every single member of the team has to achieve some goals, which, in reality, are not really achievable. They will also be offered a performance-related bonus – for completing all work in time. This seems like a bad joke to a workforce which cannot cope with the work it has now. Offering a bonus is not going to change this – only the reorganization of work. Hiring more people, having better salaries and reorganizing the regions.

The Post Office however is trying to hire more people, but using both a „divide and conquer” strategy and schemes supported by the owner, the Polish state. In one scheme, the Post Office will be hiring prisoners. The deal is that they pay the state a sum of money that is equal to the monthly upkeep of the prisoner – a sum that is about 50% higher than the mail carrier's basic pay. This is absurd on the one hand, but on the other, has it's advantages. The government gets to fund the prison system from a state-owned company and we are sure that the prisoners will see very little of this money. The Post Office then will have some workforce that they expect will be in no position to demand better working conditions and can be used to scare other workers. Some workers have reported being told that if they don't like their work, they will be replaced. The Post Office also made a huge PR campaign out of the fact that they will hire more people with disabilities, a category of worker which guarantees employers subsidies from the state.

Although people usually agree that we need to make more jobs for people with disabilities, we also note here how these workers are being treated instrumentally during a time of labour disputes.

On April 8, workers from all over Poland arrived in Warsaw. Despite the short preparation time, the logistic difficulties for some and all the different methods being used by the Post Office and the unions to discourage the protest, a couple of thousand workers took part – about the same as in the March 16 protests. The protesters marched around Warsaw, from the main post office, to a few ministries and the Premier's office. Different workers spoke out fierously, shouting that the unions don't represent them and criticizing the management of the Post Office and their methods. Hundreds of people came in union and wore stickers claiming „You cannot fire us all!”. (This saying is modified from the Warsaw's tenants' movement slogan, „You cannot burn us all”, a reaction to the murder of Jolanta Brzeska.) Other banners said that workers were betrayed by the unions.

The protest was remarkable in that it is unusual for protests outside the main unions to be so widespread. In fact, these are the largest and more significant independent workers' protests in the history of the Third Republic.

No doubt, following these protests, more actions and organization is to come.

The Post Office has not responded to these protests or demands, but only speak to the press about how they are supposedly improving working conditions. But for those who take home 350 euro for exhausting work, carrying 30 kilo bags after 20 or more years on the job, none of these pseudo-measures really make any difference.

Photos and videos from the protests can be found on various FB sites, including:
Związek Wielobranżowy Warszawa,news,protest-pocztowcow-w-centrum...