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Cegielski Factory in crisis

This text is going to describe the historical and present meaning of the Cegielski factory in Poznan for the workers' movement in Poland, and the history of activity of Workers' Initiative in the factory since 2002. We are also going to show the development of the strategy of wildcat strikes called "płyta" during this years, for which a key activist of IP was recently sentenced in the Polish court. Last but not least, the article shows the recent influence of the global crises in the shipyards industry on the situation of Cegielski workers: 500 of them were fired, which mobilized others to mass demonstration in October 2009.

Since 2002 the Workers Initiative (Inicjatywa Pracownicza – IP) has been working closely with the workers of Cegielski plant in Poznan, successfully convincing the majority of the workers of the effectiveness of its tactics. These tactics are based on several simple principles: end the conciliatory politics towards the enterprise management which were conducted here by trade unions; assurance of full access of the workers to information on the status of the enterprise as well as on the status of particular groups of workers employed in Cegielski; worker participation in relevant decisions; finally, the creation of a foundation for worker-led direct actions and struggles.

The Meaning of the Cegielski Factory
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 (while Poland is one of the leading producers of ships worldwide), as well as engines for wagons and trams. For years Cegielski had been one of the biggest workplace in the western part of Poland. In the '70s, during the most productive years of the plant, more than 20 000 people worked there. In the beginning of 2009 there were 2 800 employees there. Its size and importance for the regional economy were some of the main reasons why the class struggle has always been concentrated in Cegielski. The first strike took place there in 1872. In the period between the world wars (1918-1939), the workers of Cegielski undertook large and small actions, including many strikes and demonstrations. The first strike actions after the war started in autumn 1945, 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 forces of the Polish army and police around 70 protesters were killed. The next wave of protests in the plant took place in the '80s, however Cegielski did not play a leading role during the revolution of 1980.

By the '90s the political expressions of the Cegielski workers had quieted. On the one hand, the workers felt threatened with dismissal; on the other hand, salaries in Cegielski exceeded the average salaries in the country at this period. With the start of a new century, protest began as a reaction to another wave of dismissals and radical cutbacks to the previous gains. During this period the Workers Initiative (IP) entered the plant, intending to begin a radical struggle in the interest of the workers.

The Beginning of the Workers Initiative at Cegielski
One of the first successes was a demonstration intending to end the dismissals of June 2002. About 1000 workers from Cegielski and other plants in Poznan took to the streets. However, numerous actions did not manage to put an end to dismissals and cutbacks. But IP had gained quite wide support which, for example, resulted in one of its members-  lathe worker, Marcel Szary- was chosen in 2003, 2006 and 2009 by the whole plant workforce as its representative to the management. He won by a large margin each time,  against the other candidates representing the big traditional trade unions present in the factory. At the same time, IP was still organizing regular protests to improve working conditions and increase financial benefits. In Spring 2006, IP attempted to organise a regular strike. The legal ways of organising did not work out. Using threats, the management and the other trade unions managed to create a situation in which less than the necessary 50% of the workers participated in the strike referendum. Learning from this experience, activists of the IP in Cegielski decided on a radical change of tactics starting with a series of short wildcat strikes. These strikes often took the form of rallies during which the workforce made direct decisions together about further developments.

"Płyta" – a Form of Wildcat Strike
Use of this strategy began on March 29, 2007. On this day, IP called the management to start negotiations on wages. At the same time, IP  refused the possibility of leading the talks in the cabinets and offices (behind closed doors) and called the negotiations to take place in the workers' club in the area of the factory so that all interested workers could participate directly in the talks. At the first meeting about 200 workers appeared, but the management refused to come. The gathered workers decided that on the next day they would have a so called "płyta" ("platform/square") – a term which in the jargon of Cegielski workers describes an informal break in the work during which the workers assemble to continue discussing the situation. On March 30, 2007, most of the employees of the morning shift participated in the "płyta". As management was still refusing participation in negotiations, the workers went out on the street and conducted a march to the management offices (about 1 km away from the gate of the factory). The next "płyta" took place on April 3, 2007. On this day the chairman of the enterprise appeared and promised to begin the talks.

Those were the beginnings of the struggle. The management, however, was not giving up so easily. On April 16, 2007, the workers called by the IP did not come to work (90% of the staff) undertaking an "absence strike" using the possibility of taking a so called "leave on demand" (according to Polish Labour Code, every employee is allowed to demand 4 days leave at any moment by simply informing the employer on the first day of the leave). It was then sort of a half-legal strike. At the same time, hundreds of workers gathered on the square in front of the management offices in the morning hours in order to protest and demand wage increases.

These protests continued at different frequencies until April 3, 2008. Altogether IP has organised 10 so-called "płyta" during this period, lasting between 20 min and 3 hours long, 5 demonstrations in which between 100-400 persons participated, and one "absence strike" in which 90% of the personnel participated. As a result of this struggle focussing on the aspect of financial compensation, the wages increased by about 700 zl (about 170 euro – exchange rate: 12.11.2009) and an extra premium of 1000 zl (240 euro). At the beginning of 2007 the average gross salary in Cegielski was about 2850 zloty (690 euro), so in about one year an increase of about 25% was achieved.

Repressions for "Płyta"
On November 3, 2009, the Polish 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 an office in the management of the factory. The court ultimately decided to limit the verdict to the financial fine.

It is worth noting that Marcel Szary (born in 1964) was a member of the Solidarity Trade Union since 1980. Between 1988-1991 he was a head of the plant-based Solidarity union in the W-2, the largest and most important department of the Cegielski factory that produces ship engines. In 2000, not agreeing with the conciliatory policy of Solidarity union, he gave up the membership of the union, and in June 2004, he started a new union - Workers' Initiative. Today he is still one of its key activists.

Result of the Crisies: 500 Workers Fired, a Demonstration of 4 000
In 2008, a severe crisis erupted in Polish shipyards, which also affected Cegielski, as ship engine production is one of the most important in the factory. Some time after that, the crisis affected shipyards in Germany and China, which also were major customers of Cegielski. This could be noticed in factory orders in mid-2009. 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) against firing workers, while at that time other trade unions cooperated with the management. On October, 23, 2009 almost 4.000 workers from different trade unions (and various plants) took part in a demonstration in defense of workplaces. Members of Workers' Initiative and anarchists also participated in the protest.

The demonstrators gathered on the premises of the factory and then moved towards the Provincial Office. The common bloc of Workers' Initiative and Sierpien '80, together with the anarchists were chanting slogans such as “Governments out to the pavement, paving stones on the government”, “One, two, three, four, stop those damn dismissals”, “A worker dismissed, a boss hanged”, “Capitalism isn't working! factories under the control of workers”, etc. "Rhythms of Resistance" samba group from Poznan supported the demo with their rhythms. A banner saying “A worker dismissed, a boss hanged” was dropped from one building on the route of the demo.

When the demonstration reached the Provincial Office, the leaders of Solidarnosc trade union were declaring a radical fight in defense of the workplace and even of “burning the Office”, while burning car tyres. When the IP members and anarchists joined the shipyard workers in the back of the office building, clashes with the police broke out, then the shipyard workers retreated as they were told to by their leaders. Three policemen were hurt and some activists expect legal proceeding against them for an attack on the policemen.

The Present Situation
Workers' Initiative continues to fight to save jobs in the factory of Cegielski. We are also trying to organize the fired workers who continue to be unemployed in order to continue the protest (for example, to put pressure on the local government who is currently trying to increase prices of water and public transport in the city of Poznan). Unfortunately, the IP activists from Cegielski have recently faced repressions. In addition to the sentence of Marcel Szary, four workers active in the IP from its very beginning were released. We are also organizing support and protest against this repressions. This struggle is important not only to the crew of Cegielski, but for all our union members, as the union was created and has developed mainly through the activity of Cegielski workers.

12.11.2009

OZZ Inicjatywa Pracownicza
Komisja Krajowa

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