Thursday 26 April 2012

Against the Politics of the Euro

Over the past couple of years, more and more social and political organizations and grassroots initiatives in Warsaw have been fighting against the city's social spending policies. We have seen movements and protests against public housing policy, the closure of schools, the privatization of school cafeterias and huge fee increases in nursery schools. (The latter have been cancelled due a judgment in favor of parents who launched a legal challenge against that decision.) All of these initiatives share a common sentiment: that the city does not care about the basic social needs of most of its residents, who are working but poor and who cannot afford private hospitals, education and rents.

Among the city's big showcase investments is the National Stadium in Warsaw and other investments related to the Euro 2012. There were many scandals related to the stadium itself. While it was built, there was a wildcat strike and a few workers died due to negligence. The ZSP was active in exposing this and getting workers to speak out, as well as helping Ukrainian workers to get better housing conditions. Despite the poor working conditions for many on the building site, the stadium is reportedly the most expensive one in the world.

When the stadium finally opened, the roof didn't work and there were other safety concerns. The city didn't even want to let the public in for the grand opening. Despite all these problems, the politicians overseeing the project received huge bonuses.

Around the area of the stadium, a gentrification process began and some people were evicted. The city condemned some houses without providing replacement housing for everybody. And thousands of people, mainly immigrants, were forced out of the marketplace that used to be around the stadium. Instead of the highly popular market, which was the largest in Europe, local residents now have a parking lot and rising rents.

All of this is costing taxpayers a lot of money, but most of the benefits are for the elites and the few business people who will make some money off the event. In the meantime, the city claims that there is no money in the budget for anything. As parents who were protesting the privatization of school cafeterias pointed out, the price of the zone for football fans in front of the Palace of Culture will be eight times the money the city wants to save by eliminating the jobs of school cooks.

Tenants organizations, ZSP and others will protest on June 8 when the Euro opens with its first match in Warsaw.

The Tenants' Defense Committee will also organize a EURO REALITY TOUR of the slums around the National Stadium during the Euro. The first dates are planned for June 9-12 and tours will be held in Polish, English, Russian and Spanish. Visitors to Warsaw can see the state of public housing and effects of gentrification around the area, as well as visit some interesting landmarks that haven't been destroyed by developers yet.