Monday 13 December 2010

Solidarity with Bus Drivers!

Solidarity to the Struggling Workers of PKS Suwalki

On the Role of State Institutions in Collaborating Against Workers' Action

For months there have been problems between the workers of PKS Suwalki and the management. PKS Suwalki is a bus company employing over 400 people, which also operates in Elk, Augustow, Olecko, Goldap and Sejny. It was commericalized in 2006 but was still owned by the State Treasury. Then it was unclear whether or not it would be privatized; in the end it was taken over by the Voivodship and remains a public entity.

Last year problems started with threats of reductions, restructuring and changing the status of the offices on location from independent offices to simple bus terminals. On April 1, 2009, drivers in Augustow held a small wildcat strike. Jaroslaw Zaborowski from the Self-Managed Independent Union of PKS Workers was fired for the strike. He took this to court and later was reinstated.

In PKS Suwalki there are 6 union organizations. Five of them started last year to fight the proposed restructurization process, proposed the communalization of the company rather than its privatization and started exposing the shady activity of the management. For example, it was proven that the management was taking money out the workers' social fund to pay into the company budget. In the past, workers received about 100 euros a year from the fund that they themselves pay into; after the management started dipping into it, the workers received nothing.

The unions also argued that the worsening financial condition of the company was not the fault of the crisis, but of bad management. They started to fight to dismiss the managers.

In April of 2010, two unionists, again Zaborowski and Boguslaw Brynda from the Free Union of Drivers, were fired for "acting to the detriment of the company". This is because they spoke about this situation in the press.

Following the dismissals, the management attempted to get other workers and unions against these people. It is a typical manipulation made by bosses in Poland, to try and convince workers that activity of this sort "ruins companies" and will be bad for workers, while they themselves misuse funds and then impose misery on the workers, who are expected to work more and earn less, to boost profits. In this pluralistic union landscape, we have seen time and time again that the bosses try to single out the smaller, more militant unions and put their membership first in line when reduction time comes.

In recent months, the bosses managed to pacify two of the five fighting unions, who resigned from their original demand. They dealt a repressive blow to another two. But Zaborowski and Brynda did not give up, taking the case to court and intensifying their campaign at the bus company, even while fired. We were delighted to learn that both have been reinstated to their jobs.

But the matter isn't over yet. The court is deciding a criminal case against Stanislaw Bilda, the Chairman of the Board of PKS Suwalki. The unionists decided to try to get court decisions against Bilda, for their illegal dismissal and the misuse of the social funds. If the court decides against Bilda is both cases, he should have to be dismissed from his position. A decision is due on Tuesday, December 14.

We are angry about the widespread use of the blanket term "acting to the detriment of the company" which is commonly used against unionists to repress them for their activity. After one of our comrades from ZSP was fired this way and fought back, we started to hear from unionists from all over the country who met with similar fates, and, most often they were fired for giving interviews in newspapers. The acceptance of such grounds for dismissal is nothing more than a tool for repressing workers' activity, limiting their abilities to expose abuse and illegal activities in their workplaces, which we know is very common.

Labour courts, the institutions which are supposed to protect workers' rights, often accept such grounds. Even when they determine that somebody was illegally fired, they often do not reinstate them to work. We are very happy that Zaborowski and Brynda did not meet this fate - but it is what is now happening to a majority of union activists in Poland.

The other problem we see is that, in conflicts, the workers bear the brunt of repression and have a lot to lose. Many who are fired have trouble finding other jobs or may be blacklisted. As many also had very low incomes, the loss of a job can lead them immediately into debt and many related problems. So workers get the message that, if they fight, they can lose a lot.

On the other hand, what usually happens to a boss when he is guilty of illegally firing somebody? The maximum fine one can get is 30,000 zloties - or 7500 euros. There are many companies happy to risk paying this amount to get rid of some unionists. But the fact is that almost nobody gets a fine like this. And in the case of Zaborowski and Brynda, the State Labour Inspectorate itself has suggested that a fine of 3000 zloties (750 euros) would be more appropriate.

We see this situation very clearly and understand what side the Law is really on. We call on all working people to understand this too and to understand that Justice is not guaranteed by the State and its institutions.

What we need is more workers' solidarity, more common action, organization and direct action in the workplace. It is through this type of action that we can really bring the bosses to account, and maybe one day even get rid of them.

Solidarity with Bus Drivers of MZK Kedzierzyn-Kozle
Better Public Transport, Better Working Conditions in All our Interest

We have been informed of the situation of municipal bus drivers in Kedzierzyn-Kozle. This year they were not given the 5% wage increase they had been promised in 2009. Besides this, the "motivational bonuses", which were an important part of their salary, were "unofficially liquidated" - in other words, nobody has received these since February.

Unionists pointed out how the company was badly managed but also about how some other factors, like detours which had to be made because of the flood, led to some losses. The workers were made to pay. They threatened to strike, but in the end did not take this decisive action since many were convinced that times were bad and they just had to tighten their belts. Now some workers have written to inform us that the boss of MZK KK, who explained all year about how there is "no money", has received a year-end bonus from the President of the City.

We can only express our disgust with this situation. Public transport is treated more and more as an enterprise which much produce profit and not serve the interests of the community. All cuts which are made are aimed at workers. Some get pay decreases or have their wages frozen. Around Poland, more and more contract workers are hired, sometimes from Ukraine, who are encouraged to work long hours for little money to the point where it can be a danger to public safety. All in the name of profit - profit for the bosses and the politicians.

Many cities make drastic cuts in public transportation, claiming that some routes are "unprofitable", or try to run fewer buses, forcing more and more people into more crowded transportation conditions. This in turn makes fewer people use it: one of the main reasons people stop using public transport is that they have to wait longer and travel in uncomfortable conditions. It is a vicious circle caused by a near-sighted public transport policy.

The results we all know: crowded roads, pollution, illogical use of natural resources and extra costs for working class people.

Public money should be used for the public good, and this includes ensuring a proper public transportation system and good working conditions for the drivers and other employees. While the politicians cry their tears about how "things are not profitable" and how "taxpayers have to pay" to finance this system, we say FINE. Not everything is for profit. We will not be fooled by the politicians' manipulations - taxpayers pay anyway - but a good deal of the money is wasted - going for politicians salaries, bonuses for bosses and bureaucrats, overpriced and sometimes useless investments so that some friend can make some money. THIS is what we shouldn't be paying for!