Message-ID: <>
Date: Tue, 29 Sep 1998 14:46:53 -0700
Sender: Forum on Labor in the Global Economy <LABOR-L@YORKU.CA>
From: Tom Patterson <tom@QUEERNET.ORG>
Subject: Poland/trade unions/Dalej!

The ability to mobilise

Dalej!, [September 1998]

Now that the Solidarnosc trade union movement is a pillar of the Polish right-wing, the ex-Communist OPZZ trade unions are increasingly able to mobilise the working population in the struggle for social justice.

The following analysis was recently published in Dalej!, the newspaper of the far-left NLR current.

The Warsaw demonstration organised by the National Trade Union Alliance (OPZZ) on 3rd April marked the opening of a general dispute with the Government. It showed that dormant within this trade union grouping is a substantial potential to mobilise large numbers in defence of the interests of the workers.

The day after the demonstration, Trybuna newspaper wrote that the OPZZ: “was often perceived as a bureaucratic, inanimate [post-Communist] union which would find no place in the new order.” The union rank-and-file are guiltless. But the OPZZ leadership deserved this criticism. It is pleasing that such criticism can be read today not only in periodicals such as Dalej! but even in Trybuna.

We rub our eyes in amazement however, when we read in the same newspaper that: “In recent years the OPZZ was so passive that there were some in the Social Democrats (SdRP—ex-Communist) who argued that it was time to withdraw from the alliance with the OPZZ and start working entirely on their own account.”

We are asked to believe that in the leadership and apparatus of the SdRP there were people who were annoyed because the OPZZ stood by quietly without protesting. Meanwhile, the Social Democrats took the side of the capitalists on every issue that was important. Who writes this rubbish, and why?

We read further in Trybuna, in connection with the OPZZ demonstration:

The workers showed that—contrary to the opinions of the neo-liberals—they are an important partner for discussions and not merely an obstruction on the road to reform. The words of the Internationale could be heard here and there in the OPZZ ranks.

They are today once more a reality. ‘The wretched of the earth,’—people made wretched by the Solidarity and Freedom Union Government, who today care only for the new vanguard of change, the so-called middle class, were marching in the streets.

But who, if not the so-called middle class, did the SdRP look after when it was in power and who else will it care for if it should return to power? And at whose cost, if not that of the workers?

The decision to organise the demonstration was taken by the OPZZ Presidium on 11th March. According to the weekly newspaper Nowy Tygodnik Popularny:

The debates at the Presidium were historic in character. For the first time in six years the OPZZ decided upon such decisive action in relation to government policy. They adopted numerous demands of a national, regional and work-place character, reflecting the growing conflicts, closures and job losses, inappropriate restructuring of some [?? ed. Dalej!] branches of industry, sharp increase in the cost of living and growing poverty and simultaneous excessive enrichment of the elite in the work-place and in the state at national and regional levels.” The same weekly also reported on the prevailing mood at the meeting.

we will not allow further oppressive behaviour by the Government towards working people, towards the unemployed and pensioners, or put up with the continual disregard shown by the governing coalition towards the largest trade union organisation.

The time has come to say Stop!—stressed members of the Presidium.

Would it were so! Experience teaches us that we must take a sceptical attitude to this declaration by the leadership of the OPZZ. We should not however look on passively, or take the OPZZ leaders literally and say ‘stop’ to the Government. We should demand and exert pressure on them to really do what they say.

Saying ‘stop’ to the Government can only be done in one way, by a massive mobilisation of the workers, not once, but as part of a campaign of protest action adopted democratically, after the widest possible consultation amongst workers and in the trade unions.

The demands which the OPZZ has put forward are very limited. God forbid that they should in any way disturb the rule of capital.

One recent declaration by the Council of the OPZZ Metal Workers' Federation. stated that “the basic conflict from the point of view of the trade unions lies between capital and labour.” Anyone who thought however that the Council was beginning to speak the language of class struggle would be mistaken.

Indeed, if we read on, we learn that it expects that the OPZZ Congress should “define in the form of a resolution the interests of working people, taking into account the interests of capital.”

Of course, capitalists do not respect even the most elementary interests of working people, unless they are forced to do so though an arduous struggle. Nevertheless, the union thinks that the definition of the interests of working people should respect the interests of the capitalists! The result of their interests being taken into account is invariably the same: the interests of working people lose out and those of capital benefit.

In the columns of Nowy Tygodnik Popularny someone who expresses the prevailing views of the OPZZ leadership writes that, although this year's neo-liberal budget cannot be defeated, “trade union pressure can cause a diminution of the pain for the worst off.” And that, in general, “it is the trade unions who have the capacity to oppose neo-liberal tendencies effectively.”

So far so good. But the split personality of the OPZZ leadership is illustrated by the rest of the article in Nowy Tygodnik Popularny:

We are not talking here about the welfare state, but about a minimum social justice, about exerting some restraint on the excessive enrichment of the few at the expense of the majority.

The past four years have shown that it is possible to reconcile economic growth with improvement of the social situation, that the left is—what a paradox!—building capitalism, without interfering for an instant in the transformation of the system. This is logical, since in order to meet social needs more adequately it is necessary to strengthen the market economy, to the extent that it favours economic growth.

If union activists are so eager to show that they do not dissent from the dominant ideological trend, that they abandon advocacy of the welfare state and restrict their goals to “minimum social justice,” if they do not demand that the few stop enriching themselves at the expense of the majority, but only that limits are put upon excessive enrichment and shamelessly assert that the strengthening of the market economy makes it easier to meet social needs, then there can be only one outcome: time and again the defence of the workers' needs will be abandoned.

When trade union militants are so ambivalent, then it is always advantageous to the capitalists and not to working people”exactly as in ‘defining the interests of working people, taking into account the interests of capital.’ And when it is asserted that Poland's adherence to the European Union supposedly means adherence to a “social Europe,” in reality it means joining a neo-liberal capitalist Europe.

The OPZZ is today the only mass workers' organisation which can defend the workforce and what remains of publicly owned property from exploitation and waste by neo-liberal capitalism. The April 3rd demonstration showed that, contrary to all those who had written off trade unionism as a lost cause, the OPZZ was capable of mobilising the working masses. Whether and to what extent this capacity is used and translated into deeds cannot be left to the narrow circles of the OPZZ leadership. It is a matter for all those who are under threat of finding themselves on the street, reduced to beggary, if no organisation comes forward to defend their rights, dignity and interests. If the OPZZ adopts such a course, then sooner or later it will win over workers who belong to Solidarity, who are losing out, like all other workers and have nothing to gain from the policies of AWS (Solidarity Electoral Action) or the Freedom Union.

OPZZ's systemic demands

These “systemic demands” presented by the OPZZ Presidium, form the basis of their national dispute with the government.

  1. The opening of negotiations between the employers and the trade unions, with the participation of the government, on a pact regarding social reforms, to include self management, health insurance, social insurance and education.
  2. Consultation to take place with the social partners in the forum of the Trilateral Commission on restructuring and privatisation, together with the introduction of binding sectorial and industrial agreements on social benefits.
  3. Presentation of a three year programme to increase public sector wages in relation to the private sector.
  4. The introduction of a permanent mechanism evaluating the impact of government initiatives and legislation on the labour market.
  5. The introduction of a system of workers' participation in companies belonging to the National Investment Fund, on the basis of the principles enshrined in the law on the commercialisation and privatisation of state enterprises. Access to shares in companies owned by the National Investment Fund should also be available to former employees, on the same basis.
  6. The introduction of ceilings on the earnings of managers and members of supervisory boards of companies owned by the Treasury and the management of state enterprises through use of a multiple of wages paid in the enterprise and on financial results.
  7. Preparation of a list of enterprises whose assets will be designated to finance social security reforms.
  8. Execution of “Priorities for the achievement of a programme for promoting productive employment and the reduction of unemployment in the period 1997–2000” in the form adopted by the Government in June 1997.
  9. Changes in the regulations implementing legislation on the participation of foreigners in economic and social life*
  10. Implementation of existing legislation:
    • on social assistance (in part relating to increasing the employment of social workers).
    • on work-place social benefit funds (the issue of regulations in part relating to additional deductions in some administrative areas [gminy] in the Katowice and Walbrzych Voivodships)
    • on the professional and social rehabilitation and employment of disabled persons (in the area of establishing national and voivod level teams responsible for the registration of invalids).
    • in the area relating to the production of goods containing asbestos (partly regarding budgetary support for the restructuring process).
  11. Restoration of 100% indexation for all pensions before the social reforms enter into force.
  12. The opening of negotiations with the social partners over the institution of a minimum guaranteed income.
  13. The introduction of social protection in connection with energy price increases through reductions in domestic prices for electricity and gas.
  14. An end to violations of trade union rights, amongst others in the area relating to consultation regarding legislation affecting employment.
  15. An end to deliberate obstruction by the Government in the area of negotiation of collective agreements by teachers, health workers and social workers.
  16. Speeding up of the work of the Procurator regarding the unlawful eviction of five trade union federations from occupation of their premises on Zloty St. in Warsaw.

* In its resolution opening a national dispute with the Government, the OPZZ Presidium states that the implementing regulations for the law concerning foreigners have caused a reduction in turn-over and therefore also employment in markets and that there is also evidence of a slump—also as a result of the regulations—of production in many small, medium sized and even large enterprises in the textiles industry, clothing, leather, furniture and building materials.