Since the first free elections in 1989, no political force that came to power in Poland has represented the interests of working people, not to mention the interests of working women. Political parties in the national and the local governments serve business. As such, a significant portion of society has no say over the conditions in which we work and live.
City authorities act as if they are managing private companies. They aim for maximizing profits by reducing costs. The costs are the needs of the workers. The way to limit them is to maintain low pay, difficult work conditions and to cut social services. Low pay forces us to work hard in the public sector or for private companies, while the lack of social benefits forces us to do unpaid labor in our households. Profits, in turn, are any goods outside of our control: the high salaries of politicians and managers, banquets and limousines for the few, infrastructure tailored primarily to the needs of business, sport stadiums instead of housing, or fountains instead of prenatal care, to name some.
The amounts we earn do not reflect the value of our work, but the minority that benefits from our low paid labor insists that this is the essence of democracy and the free market. Until democracy allows for increasing social inequalities, including inequalities between women and men, no election will improve the lives of working women. The mayor of Warsaw provides a telling example here. Despite the fact that a woman rules this city, her policies of privatization led to mass evictions, forcing thousands of women tenants to lose a roof over their heads. A greater number of women in power, who are detached from the realities of the workplace or the public tenement, will not solve our problems. Women who struggle for higher wages and lower rents on a daily basis do not need politicians, no matter the gender, who are unable to represent our interests.
Poznan nursery school workers
In his previous election campaign, the current mayor of Poznan promised pay increases for nursery school workers and those employed at other municipal institutions. After coming to power, he spent two years fighting trade unions in order to limit these increases to a minimum. Finally, he announced a gross raise of 700 PLN (162 EUR/185 USD) over three years. He did not keep his promise. This year, the city authorities are bent on sweeping the problem of low pay in nursery schools under the carpet. Contrary to his declarations about equality for women, mayor Jacek Jaskowiak is doing a lot to ensure that women working in Poznan’s nursery schools never see equality in economic terms.
Poznan hospital workers
The non-medical staff at the University Hospital in Poznan have been excluded from systemic pay raises since 2009. For this reason their real earnings have been falling, rather than rising. What more, the pay gap between ward housekeepers, physician assistants, administrative assistants, nurses, and doctors is huge and constantly growing. While some make tens of thousands of zlotys per month, others have to receive compensation because they earn below minimum wage. The government adopted a draft amendment to the act that defines the method of determining the lowest basic pay for employees of medical professions in healthcare institutions. The conditions proposed for non-medical workers, as specified by the amendment, only further reinforce pay inequalities.
The Wielkopolska Tenants’ Association
The central aim of our activities is to make housing accessible to all in need, so that it will be our right and not a privilege, or an “election promise”. Speculation on the real estate and construction markets along with pressure exerted by the banking sector has caused a sharp rise in the price of building and renting homes. Thousands of households have to cope with debt on rent, evictions, and privatization. We therefore struggle for greater access to existing public housing, more investments in building new public housing, the reduction of debt on rent and for changes in the criteria used to determine eligibility for public housing. The so-called housing size criteria should be repealed (which has already happened in Poznan), while the income limitations should be raised so that more people can benefit from the right to public housing. We also stand against the privatization of public housing.
Warsaw tenants: for cheap and healthy housing
Despite 12 years of city government headed by a woman mayor, the housing conditions of masses of poorer women and their families remain dramatic in the capital. The number of cheap public housing units shrunk by 20,000 during this period. Over two thirds of tenements managed by the city have no access to central heating, while the rate of installing central heating in these homes barely reaches 1 percent annually. By demolishing or privatizing public housing, the Civic Platform, in power in the city, has forced about 50,000 people to face the risk of freezing or disease due to living in cold, damp and decrepit housing. Such policies have made thousands of households fall into debt because of the high costs of heating with electricity. What more, tuberculosis has broken out among public tenants and the city authorities claim that there is no better housing to which people could be evacuated. In districts of the city like southern Praga, fewer than two in a hundred buildings are in good condition, while the city authorities have not built a single new apartment in over a decade. The elites have forced us into crisis, for which we must pay with our own health. Tenants from Warsaw’s Praga district are organizing to increase affordable housing. Until central heating is installed in every building, we demand that the city stop collecting rents in disease-ridden and substandard housing. We also demand that the city authorities repeal debts on rent and create real subsidies to the costs of heating with electricity.
These examples of on-going social conflicts where women are forced to fight for access to basic means of subsistence are not isolated. Women across Poland struggle with similar problems. Instead of focusing on elections, we organize together in workplaces and neighborhoods. Thanks to trade unions, tenants’ associations and informal groups, we are regaining say over our lives, which politicians and business try to destroy.
Women’s Social Congress (SKK), October 13th, 2018, Poznan, Poland
Organizations affiliated with SKK:
Ogólnopolski Związek Zawodowy Inicjatywa Pracownicza, Warszawskie Stowarzyszenie Lokatorów, Wielkopolskie Stowarzyszenie Lokatorów, Międzyzakładowy Związek Zawodowy Pracowników „Zjednoczeni”, Ruch Sprawiedliwosci Społecznej, Manifa Poznan, Codziennik Feministyczny, Kolektyw Manifa Torunska, Inicjatywa 8 Marca (Wrocław), Akademicki Komitet Protestacyjny, Partia Razem, Koalicja Sex Work Polska, Stowarzyszenie "Bratnia Pomoc", Spółdzielnia Ogniwo (Kraków), Aborcyjny DreamTeam, W Naszej Sprawie, Torunski Strajk Kobiet, Fundacja Nie Tylko Matka Polka, Fundacja Feminoteka, Porozumienie Kobiet 8 Marca.