Poland: Postal workers strike

Mail carriers across Poland are strike for better pay and working conditions. Polish anarchists report on the stoppage and actions they have taken to support it.

Submitted by akai on November 22, 2006

On Nov. 13, a wildcat strike of mail carriers started in the Gdansk post office. Now the strike has been taken over by different unions, mostly Solidarity, and has spread to most major cities in Poland.

The mail carriers' demands include:
- an 8 hour work day for all workers of the Polish Post (most mail carriers work 10-12 hours daily)
- a raise to 1500 zl. a month (about 500 USD or 375 Euro)
from the current 800-900 (about 275-300 USD or 200-225 Euro)
- overtime payments
- no more carrying heavy bags filled with advertisements

The Anarchist Federation and Workers' Initiative organized some solidarity actions and talks with the post workers. Anarchists in Poznan and Gdansk organized pickets and in Warsaw a couple of talks and solidarity during an occupation.

Talks with the workers and background on the situation
Slightly over half of Warsaw's mail carriers are on strike. Nov. 21 and 22, members of the Anarchist Federation Praga met with striking workers to speak. On Nov. 22, mail carriers occupied and blocked the entrance of the 2nd main post office in Warsaw, in the Praga district.

The anarchists spoke about radicalization of the protest and about possible strategy in light of the liberalization of the postal market which was about to take place. As it turns out, most postal workers were unaware of the major changes that were about to take place in Poland.

Under pressure from the European Union, Poland must remove the last protectionist regulations concerning mail delivery. Currently, private firms face restrictions on what they may deliver. The overwhelming bulk of mail delivery in Poland is comprised of lightweight letters but next year, private firms will be allowed to compete in this market.

Amazingly, almost nobody we spoke to seemed to be aware of these impending changes.

On Nov. 15, InPost started operation in Poland. This private post office has opened 75 outlets and plans to open 800 more by the end of the year. When the ban on competition in the small letters market is lifted, they plan to compete with the Polish Post. They plan to cut prices on letter delivery, which is relatively easy considering Polish Post's inflated rates, which are 10-15% higher than in the US for example.

Other potential entrants on the market include Deutsche Post. Some of the mail carriers had heard of the private post but were not aware that it would be allowed to compete in its market.

Anarchists discussed the likely scenarios for the letter carriers. When analysing the profit structure of Polish Post, we were able to determine that, if costs were allotted as at present, Polish Post could only afford a raise of about 1000 zł. per year per employee. We spoke of how profits were mismanaged and channelled to the upper management. Furthermore, we supposed that union negotiators at the higher levels know about, plus they know that the government is under pressure not to subsidize the post and that Polish Post will lose some of its market share next year. It was are opinion that the workers will be, from now on, hit in two ways: heavily workload and mass reductions.

This was a message that apparently the unions didn't want to convey to the workers, some of whom were greatly surprised. Anarchists said that nonetheless, the strikers demands were justified and the strike should continue but that we suspect that the unions will, as they usually do, negotiate the mass reductions with the post office and may even trade off a slight pay raise now for an agreement on reductions in the future. (But so far they haven't negotiated a pay raise.)

Anarchists made the connections between exploitation and price wars and between management greed and waste and diverting funds away from the workers. Anarchists argued that management has to go, that budget cuts have to be made at the expense of bureaucrats and that the post office can be self-managed. In reality, it was a little much for some people to take in at once, some people preferring populist slogans but many people took leaflets and financial information and everyone appreciated that we compiled this for them.

Anarchists vs. private and state capitalism
The most interesting discussions took place between anarchists and a Solidarity leader and an activist from the Polish Labour Party.

Anarchists asked Solidarity for an official position statement on the situation on the postal market. They don't have one but at least one guy told us that this competition will be good for the workers and that he was hoping that the private posts will be more efficient. (Solidarity has a long history of lobbying for privatization of state-run enterprises.) He mentioned that Solidarity will certainly try to unionise InPost.

The Polish Labour Party guy was furious saying that the Post Office has to be run by the state and be a protected industry.

Anarchists pointed out that the Post Office was currently run by the state and that currently consumers pay too much, mail is regularly delayed, stolen and mishandled, many of the local post offices are a mess with huge lines and that the workers get shit pay while the bosses channel money into their pockets. We argued that privatization was no answer - only self-management was.

The Labour Party guy was furious again claiming that problem was not the state, but that the state isn't run by honest people, which is the fault of people like us who try to convince people to boycott elections instead of voting for the Labour Party.

When anarchists asked if any discretionary funds from Aug. 80 trade union were ever used to fund the activity of the Labour Party, a nasty fight broke out and the Solidarity bigwig kicked us out.

(The leaders of Aug. 80 and the Labour Party are the same people.)

More information (in Polish):