Monday 25 May 2009

Conference on Bologna Process

Bologna Process: Adjusting Education to the Needs of Capital
6 June in Warsaw 11:00-19:00
al. Solidarności 62

With members of ZSP, Group "Reclaim your education" from Wroclaw, "Open Committee to Liberate Education Space" from Gdansk, "Initiative Against Paid Studies" from Krakow, and "Informal Anti-Bologna Group" from Warsaw.

Members of ZSP from Warsaw will explain Bologna Process and made presentation about student protests. Oskar from ZSP Szczecin will make critique of role of education in reproduction of class relationships.

This is first critical conference on topic in Poland. Read more!

Surprise at "Cafe Surprise"

20 years ago in a cafe named "Surprise" on Constitution Sq. in Warsaw the Solidarity Campaign Office was located. June 4 marks the 20th anniversary of the first "free" elections in Poland after the fall of the PRL and all around Poland, events are being held to commemorate this date. On Constitution Sq. in Warsaw, the city, together with some organizations, opened up a mock cafe "Surprise" with photographs from this period. They are also gathering material now for an anti-communist "Museum of Communism". Today was the opening celebration which was to be ceremonially opened by the President of Warsaw, Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz. ---- Waltz, who is one of the leaders of the ultra-liberal Civic Platform and who is responsible for introducing rent hikes and speeding up reprivatization processes while doing nothing to improve the city's housing policies, has been called "Queen of the Slums" by the Tenants' Defense Committee. There have been a number of protests in front of City Hall, but the "Queen" does not want to meet with tenants. So tenants will have to follow her public appearances and meet her.

Members of the Tenants' Defense Committee and the Warsaw Tenants' Association went to protest at the event. Gronkiewicz-Waltz cancelled her appearance, afraid to be met by the protest.

Members of the tenants groups pointed out that in 1989, one of the postulates of Solidarity was to cut down the time people had to wait to get an apartment. The situation in housing has not improved since then and has only gotten worse, with buildings being sold with tenants, illegal evictions and forcing people to live in substandard and dangerous housing. Besides speaking about this situation, there were some reminders to the guests of the event, which included many prominent Solidarity activists, about what the values of the original Solidarity were and how much Poland has departed from them. People were told that social struggles are still alive, that they didn't go away with the fall of communism, as some would like to think, and they do not belong in a museum. (A reference to the attitude of some former activists.)

The demo being a surprise, it was not legalized and there were a few "discussions" with the police and a few of the museum activists who found protesting to be scandalous. Luckily, this attitude was only held by a few people, mainly former hippies, who still had long hair and proved to be the most uncool pricks going: probably they were only students or artists then, fighting for the right to get more rock concerts, not for the social rights of the workers. Some of the legends of Solidarity on the other hand came and spoke to the tenants.

Some anarchist and left activists from Union of Syndicalists and Left Alternative are active in the two tenants groups and take active part in these demonstrations. Read more!

Sunday 17 May 2009

Starbucks Picket

Today there were two pickets at Starbucks Coffee in Poland - one in Warsaw and one in Wroclaw, the two cities where Starbucks opened their first cafes in Poland last month. May 17 is the 5th anniversary of the founding of the Starbucks workers union, which we spoke about at the pickets.

The pickets were organized by ZSP as solidarity campaigns but also to raise awareness about working conditions in the cafe/restaurant industry and to encourage workers to organize.

Some photos of the picket in Wroclaw can be found here:;cmd=366

(Sorry, no photos from Warsaw this time. A little technical fuck-up.)

Today's picket also included information about what is going on along "Nowy Swiat" (New World) Street in Warsaw where Starbucks is located. Almost all of the well-known cafes along the street have closed down due to astronomical rents, leaving room only for corporate chains, ultra-exclusive places and money laundering fronts. We just found out that the last of the famous cafes on the street. Cafe Bajka which has been there for 53 years and was the last place on the street where you could get a cheap drink and a meal, is being forced to close since their rent was raised to an astronomical 20,000 zloties a month. (It's a small place, so it's really amazingly high rent.) We could see on the street that other cafes and small shops have closed up and in their place we will have Subway and Haagen Daaz. The price of coffee in Starbucks is similar to in the US, despite the fact that average wages are many times higher. This makes brands like these clearly brands for yuppies (and tourists) who are in the elite. Seeing what is going on with the
rapid influx of corporate chain stores along New World St., we renamed it "Brave New World" St.

We have also noticed that Starbucks in Poland has started an extensive greenwashing campaign, which an average consumer might misunderstand and believe the prices are high because they are buying fair trade coffee. Only about 5% of Starbucks coffee is fair trade but they are presenting themselves as the most "ethical" coffee in town. Read more!

Saturday 16 May 2009

Protest at City Council

About 50 tenants protested at the session of the Warsaw City Council. Tenants forced that they could speak to council without waiting. Council members promised to discuss the postulates of tenants at next session.

Action was successful criticism of city housing policy.

Members of KOL - Tenants' Defense Committee - called action, it was supported by Warsaw Tenants' Association.

Members of ZSP Warsaw are active in KOL and were among organizers of this action.
Read more!

Sunday 3 May 2009

Picket at Starbucks

On May 2, we had a picket in front of the newly-opened Starbucks in Warsaw, "welcoming" them to the Polish market. First people went inside to talk to the workers and give them leaflets explaining what our protest is about. Since the streets were quite busy, hundreds of leaflets disappeared in seconds. We spoke about the situation of the Starbucks union and the struggle of workers to earn decent wages, have good work schedules, the right to full-time employment, to benefits and to organize in unions.

At the same time as the picket, by coincidence there was a street fair right next to us which was promoting ecological, locally-produced food and there were people handing out information against GMOs. Since this topic was present right next to us, we also spoke about globalization, about the coffee trade and other issues which also seemed to attract passerbys attention and support.

Since May 17th marks the 5th anniversary of the first Starbucks workers union, we decided it would be a good day to go back and visit them. Read more!

May Day, Warsaw

On May Day we organized a local demonstration and street meetings in the Praga district of Warsaw where there has been a recent protest movement of tenants who are fighting against rent increases and the reprivatization of some public houses. The day started with a street meeting with residents. related to rent increases which took effect May 1. Although there were fewer people than at recent protests, the neighbours were able to meet and discuss what to do next and how to attract more people to the movement. People were invited to a meeting to discuss an upcoming direct action.

The main May Day event started in front of the Praga hospital. Besides people from ZSP, some comrades from Workers' Initiative and Anarchist Federation came, as well as some non-aligned people, some left activists and some local residents. The situation with the commercialization, restructuring and privatization of health care was discussed. The anarchists explained that we do not people in the two main choices given to people: either bureaucratic state-run health care or commericalized health care. Instead we proposed workers' self-management and public control and co-management of all public services. A lot of anarchist ideas for the reorganization of the work place and society were mentioned. The same ideas were repeated about the Post Office and the railways.

The situation of health-care workers was also discussed. We mentioned the case of the hospital in Bielsko-Biala which would prefer to be re-organized as some sort of collective rather than commericalized. We also reminded people of recent workers struggles and about how difficult it is for health-care workers to protest since they are always accused of "neglecting patients". There are new bills being drafted which would make protests in this sector practically impossible. We sent our solidarity to the nurses from the Barlicki hospital in Lodz who were fired for their union activity.

There was also an explanation of the problems with legislation concerning the maximum working hours, in particular in relation to health-care workers who are forced to work an enormous amount of unpaid overtime. We reminded people of the origins of May Day and how the struggle for the 8-hour day was still urgent 123 years later.

Next, in front of the Post Office, the problems of restructuring and commercialized were explained, as well as the labour problems which people are experiencing in the Post Office. We told about what people were saying on our Post Office Workers' Forum and mentioned the case of Bartosz Kantorczyk who was dismissed from the PO and recently lost his case in court to be reinstated.

There were similar stories about problems in the railways. (The main railways HQ in Poland was on our route.) It was mentioned how the railways plan to cut 7000 jobs and how in some smaller cities these mass layoffs were devastating. We explained the how this had to do with the profit motive more than necessity and how the crisis was being used as a pretext to fire people on masse in many companies and institutions.

Next there was a stop in front of the legendary bazaar which once was full of life... until the chain supermarkets opened. With big corporate competition and rising rents, the main street in Praga, called "Targowa" - or "Trade" Street, named after the once lively trade there - is slowly being taken over by one bank after another. There was a discussion about how this was all part of the larger scheme of gentrification and how big corporate shops replaced some family and individual run shop which had been operating for generations. Once the biggest shop in the neighbourhood was Poland's first cooperative shop: now it is reduced to about 1/15 of its original size and is on the verge of exintinction. There was a tirade against banks and the credit trap which many of the working poor find themselves falling into.

Finally there was a stop in front of the supermarket Biedronka which is well-known for having horrendous working conditions.

At the end of the march, people went to the park to relax on that very beautiful day. Read more!

May Day Photos

Courtesy of WSA, Wroclaw. Read more!