Kielce Bus Drivers Protest in Warsaw

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akai
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Aug 6 2008 16:43
Kielce Bus Drivers Protest in Warsaw

Some months ago there was a strike in the bus company MPK Kielce which, like other formerly state-owned bus companies, was slated for privatization. MPK is an abbreviation which is used for municipal transport systems in Poland.

News about it was printed here:
http://libcom.org/news/poland-bus-drivers-win-strike-14102007
When the strike happened, there were different approaches amongst anarchist groups, with some calling for a worker-management scheme and others critical of this approach. (The ZSP group was critical of the scheme and warned about it, also criticizing it from the anti-capitalist point of view.)

A follow up on this: they formed a worker-run company, with the union bosses and some of the old management heading it. Of the more than 630 workers employed there, only 400 put up money for shares. The idea was to buy 55% of the company- a controlling share. (Of course shares are ultimately transferrable, but's that's another story.) They collected 1 million zl. in capital but 5 million was needed just to get the initial share price plus another 17 million for buses. The worker-run company thus thought it could borrow the 21 million zloties - which of course everybody would have to pay back with interest. This is a debt of 50,000 zloties per shareholder. An average bus driver takes home about 16,000 zloties a year. Experience has shown that workers sometimes pay off these debts through harsh austerity measures. One example of a worker-run bus company is PKS Grodzisk Mazowiecki where there was a wildcat strike of Ukrainian bus drivers a few months ago. The company needs to pay off new buses and surely the owners want to make a profit - and they do it by exploiting people, making them drive 80 hours a week, fucking them left and right.

No bank wants to lend MPK the money it needs. The head of the worker-run company quit. They need a new management board. The workers are discouraged.

Today another group of bus drivers showed up to protest in Warsaw. These were from PKS Kielce. PKS is an acronym for non-municipal bus companies that go to other towns and cities. In this group of bus drivers were also a small group of drivers who had worked with MPK and unionists from Solidarity which also functions in MPK. The bus drivers in PKS, led by some of the same local unionists as those in MPK decided this time that instead of privatization, they would like the company to be communalized - in other words, to be taken over by the city.

It is actually a bit unusual; PKS companies throughout Poland where turned into these bullshit worker-management schemes. In theory, the connection between MPKs, which serve the municipalities and the city is much clearer. It is not typical for the city to try to acquire a long-distance bus company. So I asked the unionists about it and, being there were some people there who had been arguing to turn MPK into a worker-run company, I asked why they didn't try that route with PKS. Also they got copies of last year's criticism of worker-run companies.

Some of the workers/ unionists talked about this and admitted that the experience of the MPK was one that they wouldn't want to repeat. One person said he read the criticism of the transformation of MPK on our web page at the time but thought that we were "biased against capitalism in general" which made him sceptical of the arguments but he understood now that there was truth in them. Solidarity is a union which is famous for supporting privatization and privitization through different types of worker-shareholder schemes so it was a giant ideological leap for them to make the demand that the city take over the bus company.

But unfortunately now that there is this idee-fixe to replace the old one, they weren't much up to discussing the ways that the city would be capable of fucking them all over. In particular, the municipal authorities in Kielce stated that it didn't think about "communalizing" MPK because of its strong union structure and that it didn't know "what to do" about the strong unions in PKS.

One thing is sure: for the workers it's just a matter of trying to find what new kind of owners will fuck them just a little bit less.