Two hundred trade unionists from ‘August 80’ (a Polish trade union federation) occupied the Polish Prime Minister’s parliamentary office for three days, last week, in protest against plans to abolish early retirement for hundreds of thousands of workers. The protest also opposed the liquidation of Polish shipyards and the commercialisation and privatisation of the health service. The protestors appealed to other trade unions to join them in organising a general strike.
Responding to the protest, Lech Walesa, the famous former leader of Solidarity and ex-President of Poland, stated that if he were Donald Tusk he would use force to remove the trade unionists from the office. However, Walesa’s brutal attitude towards workers in struggle should not come as a surprise to anyone. Earlier this year, he spoke out in favour of plans to introduce the right to organise a lockout into the Polish labour code!
On the other hand, Jan Guz, leader of OPZZ, one of the biggest union federations, declared his support for the action and for August 80’s demands, but stated that a general strike should only be called as a last resort. The fact that after only one day of the protest the question of a general strike has been placed on the agenda, and is now being discussed by trade union bureaucrats, like Jan Guz, is an achievement in itself for August 80.
The three main trade union federations, Solidarity, OPZZ and Forum are feeling the pressure mounting from below due to their inability to effectively defend their members’ rights. Two weeks ago, they organised a joint picket of the Polish parliament on the same issues raised by August 80’s occupation. The picket turned into an illegal demonstration of 5,000 trade unionists but the union leaders were unable to control the frustration of the membership and fighting broke out with the police. On the same demonstration, the leader of the train drivers’ union, which recently joined OPZZ, called for a general strike to defeat the government’s plans.
The occupation has ended and the focus is now on 8 December, on which date August 80 is appealing to other trade unions to call a general strike. However, to turn this into a reality, trade unionists must build for such a strike from below, by agitating, not only where they work, but in other workplaces too, explaining the issues and the need for a general strike.