wila | 22.11.2009 17:32 | Workers' Movements
The Cegielski plant is one of the most famous plants in Poland. It was founded in 1846. Presently, Cegielski produces various types of engines, among them ship-engines, as well as engines for wagons and trams. For years Cegielski had been one of the biggest workplace in the western part of Poland, with the employment peaking 20000 in the '70s. At the beginning of 2009 there were 2 800 employees there.
Because od its size and importance for the economy the class struggle has always been concentrated in Cegielski. The first strike took place there in 1872 and in 1956 workers of Cegielski initiated the militant proletarian insurgence which held for a few days and took over the whole of Poznan. In the militant clashes with army and police 70 protesters were killed. The next wave of protests in the plant took place in the '80s.
In 2008, a severe crisis erupted in Polish shipyards, as well as in the shipbuilding industry in China and Germany, the main markets for Cegielski’s production. In June 2009, mass layoffs of about 500 workers were announced.
Cegielski is a state owned plant, operating as a PLC with the state as the sole shareholder. Despite the dire economic situation of the factory due to present world crisis, Polish government remains idle and refuses to take any steps to save the plant and over 2000 jobs it gives, as well as the whole shipbuilding industry. In the same time, the government in Warsaw declared over £400 milion of public support to save Opel plant in Gliwice, owned by the bancrupted European branch of GM. This politically - biased approach, aimed to bring strongly unionised shipyards and heavy industry plants to collapse has led to the widespread unrest in this industry with massive union demonstrations in Warsaw, Szczecin and Poznan and clashes between the workers and the police.
OZZ „Iincjatywa Pracownicza” (National Trade Union „Workers Initiative” – IP) was founded in the summer of 2002. As a result of widespread disapointment with the existing trade unions in Poland and their stance during the wave of strikes and workers protests earlier that year, radical activists labour activists from protesting plants joined forces with the syndicalist wing of the anarchist movement to create a radical, independent from the party infuences trade union.
The union is based on the principles of ending the conciliatory politics towards the enterprise management conducted by mainstream trade unions, assurance of full access of the workers to information on the status of their plants and worker participation in relevant decisions, finally, the creation of a foundation for worker-led direct actions and struggles as well as promoting the self - organization of the working class towards the social economy based on cooperative ownership of the means of production and colective decision – making.
By the '90s the political expressions of the Cegielski workers had quieted, but with the start of a new century, protest began as a reaction to wave of dismissals and radical cutbacks to the previous gains. At that time, in 2002 the Workers Initiative (IP) entered the plant with a program of radical struggle in the interest of the workers. It’s first succesful action was a demonstration against the job cuts in June 2002 with about 1000 workers from Cegielski and other plants in Poznan. IP had gained quite wide support which resulted in one of its members, lathe worker, Marcel Szary, being elected as a workers representative to the management for 3 consecutive terms: in 2003, 2006 and 2009. In Spring 2006, IP attempted to organise a regular strike at the plant, but due to the threats from the management and the stance of other unions less than 50% of workers took part in a ballot. As a result, IP has change its tactic and start a a series of short wildcat strikes. These strikes took the form of rallies during which the workforce made direct decisions together about further developments of the struggle. On March 29, 2007, IP called the management to start wage negotiations in the workers' club in the factory so that the workers could participate in the talks. About 200 workers appeared, but the management refused to come. As a result, on March 30, 2007, most of the morning shift participated in the "płyta" („the plate” – workers’ rally in a factory yard in Cegielski, called within the working hours). Workers went out to the street and march to the management offices (about 1 km away from the gate of the factory). As the management was still refusing to meet the workers’ demands, on April 16, 2007, IP called an absence strike with the participation of 90% of workes, hundreds of whom took part in the rally at the management offices. These protests continued until April 3, 2008. As a result of the struggle, the wages in a plant increased by 700 zl (about £150). At that time the average wage in Cegielski was about 2850 zloty (£600).
In 2008, a severe crisis erupted in Polish shipyards, as well as in the shipbuilding industry in China and Germany, the main markets for Cegielski’s production. In June 2009, mass layoffs of about 500 workers were announced. Workers' Initiative began to organize protests (several pickets and demonstrations in front of the factory) to safe the jobs at the plant. On October, 23, 2009 almost 4.000 workers from different trade unions (and various plants around the country) took part in a demonstration in defense of workplaces.
The common block of Workers' Initiative, anarchist movement and Sierpien '80 trade union took part in the demo under the black and red banners. A banner saying “A worker dismissed, a boss hanged” was dropped from one building on the route of the demo. As the march has reached the local government office, the IP members and anarchists joined the shipyard workers storming the office building, which led to the clashes with the police protecting the buiding. Three policemen were hurt and some of the activists are in threat of legal proceeding for alleged an attack on the policemen.
At present, IP continues the fight to save jobs in a plant, and is succesfully organising the fired workers to fight for the unpayed wages. First meeting of released workers from Cegielski gathered 40 of 500 of them. The Committee of Unemployed Workers was founded. The first action of the Committee was the rally at plant management on Friday, 20th of November, demanding payment of wage arrears and severance package.
On 16 of November two wildcat strikes took place in the Fabryka Pojazdow Szynowych in Poznan (subsidiary of Cegielski and the Wagon factory in Ostrow, a railway rolling-stock producer and repairer factory. In both cases, the workers demanded payment of wage arrears. They also claim that their protest may have more radical forms in the future.
On November 3, 2009, the court found Marcel Szary guilty of organizing and leading three wildcat strikes in Cegielski in 2008 and he was sentenced to a fine of 3 000 zl (730 euro). Not only did the state prosecution demand to punish Szary, but so did the bosses of the plant, who demanded a verdict of banning him from holding the position of the workers’ representative in a plant. The court ultimately decided to limit the verdict to the financial fine.
In the mid October 2009 IP at Cegielski plant saw a massive surge of the new member as a result of the growing conflict in a factory and radicalisation of its workforce. It allowed the union to appoint four new stewards at the plant. Few days after Alicja Kuźniak, Radosław Dziarski, Jarosław Wiertelak and Robert Witkowski were appointed to the company management as a union stewards all of them were unlawfully dismissed from thieir jobs. The union stewards are protected against the dismissal under the Chapter 32 of the Polish Trade Union Act. The management of the plant is also in breach of other rules of law, as all the fired stewards were members of the Strike Comitte, which got the status of protected employees during the ongoing industrial dispute, and elected representatives of the workforce.
On 27 of October sacked stewards from IP filled a lawsuit against unlawful dismissal to the employment tribunal in Poznan. The struggle continues...
For more information on Workers Initiative and ongoing struggle at Cegielski Plant check:
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