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Workers Initiative in Cegielski Plant

Successive spreading of tactics amongst workers of the famous Poznan factory

Since 2002 the Workers Initiative (Inicjatywa Pracownicza - IP) has been working closely with the workforce of Cegielski plant in Poznan, successively convincing the majority of the workers of its tactics. These tactics are based on several simple principles: end of 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 situation of the enterprise as well as on the situation of particular groups of workers employed in Cegielski; assurance of worker participation in the taking of relevant decisions; finally, creation of the ground for direct and struggles controlled from below. In the period of 7-8 years IP succeeded to introduce all these principles into working life, what led to the situation that in fact for about 1 year the personnel of Cegielski conducts permanent protests, which have brought till now high increases of the salaries and, above all, the radicalisation of the workers' attitudes within the plant.

Cegielski plant is one of the most famous firms in Poland. It was founded in 1846. For now, Cegielski produces in the first place various types of engines, among them ship-engines (while Poland is one of the leading producers of ships worldwide), as well as waggons and trams. For many years, Cegielski had been one of the biggest work places in the western part of Poland. In the '70s, the most productive years of the plant, more than 20 000 people were working here. Today, there are 2 800 employees here. Its size and the big meaning for the economy were some of the main reasons why the class struggle has always been concentrating in Cegielski. The first strike took place here in 1872. In the period between the world wars (1918-1939), the workers of Cegielski undertook smaller or bigger actions, strikes and demonstrations many times. The first strike actions after the war started already 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 protestors were killed. The next wave of protests went through the plant in the '80s, however Cegielski did not play a leading role during the revolution of 1980.

In the '90s the situation in the plant had become quiet. On the one hand, the workers let themselves be scared with the threat of dismissal; on the other hand, salaries in Cegielski exceeded the average salaries in the country at this period. Only with the beginning of the new century the new protest actions started as a reaction to another wave of dismissals and radical decreases of the gains. In this period the Workers Initiative (IP) entered into the plant with the motto of the necessity to undertake a radical struggle for the interests of the workers.

One of the first successes was a demonstration under the heading of stopping the dismissals in 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 gain decrease. But IP had gained quite wide support which e.g. resulted in the fact that one of its members, Marcel Szary, was chosen twice (2003 and 2006) by the whole plant personnel as its delegate in works of the enterprise management. He won very radically each time against the candidates of the big traditional trade unions presented in the factory. At the same time, IP was still undertaking regular protest actions gaining improvements of work conditions and financial benefits in many issues. In spring 2006 IP undertook an attempt to organise a regular strike. The legal way of its organising did not work out. By use of 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 strikes. These strikes were often taking the form of rallies during which the workforce was deciding together and directly about further developments.

This strategy started on March 29, 2007. At this day, IP had called the management to start negotiations on wages. At the same time, IP from the beginning refused the possibility of leading the talks in the cabinets and offices (behind closed doors) and call the negotiations to take place in the workers club on the area of the factory so that all interested workers could participate directly in the talks. For the first meeting about 200 workers appeared, but the management refused to come. The gathered workers then conducted an assembly and decided that on the next day they will conduct 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 conduct the assembly. On March 30, 2007, most of the employees of the morning shift participated in the "płyta". As the 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 beginning of the talks.

These have been 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" (in Poland every employee is allowed to demand 4 days leave at any moment by simply informing the employer at the first day of the leave). It was then sort of a half-legal strike. At the same time, some hundreds of workers gathered on the square in front of the management offices in the morning hours in order to protest and demand increases.

These protests continued with different frequency until April 3, 2008. Altogether IP has organised 10 so called "płyta" in this period, which have been between 20 min and 3 hours long, 5 demonstrations in which participated between 100-400 persons and one "absence strike" in which 90% of the personnel participated. As a result of this struggle which focused on the aspect of gains, the wages increased by about 7000 zl (1 euro is about 3,3 zl) and an extra premium of 1000 zl. At the beginning of 2007 the average salary in Cegielski was about 2850 zloty (brutto), so in about one year an increase of about 25% was achieved.

This is however not the end of the struggle of IP. At the moment, the biggest problem on the horizon is to stop the attempt of privatisation of Cegielski, which is still a state enterprise. The workers are against such an idea. As a reaction to the governmental project of privatisation Workers Initiative is planning to present a counter-proposal for the socialisation of the plant. Right now, activists are working on the creation of a project for the transformation of Cegielski into a co-operative society, in which shareholders would be all workers and in these terms they would, in fact, take control over the plant.

JU from Inicjatywa Pracownicza

Abolishing the borders from below - Anarchist Journal from Eastern Europe 31/2008

OZZ Inicjatywa Pracownicza
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