This piece is part of an occasional series in ideas & action on organizational profiles from international groups, organizations and revolutionary unions. It is hoped that the series will help the reader develop a deeper appreciation of political currents and revolutionary unions worldwide.
ZSP (Związek Syndykalistów Polski – Union of Syndicalists, Poland), is the Polish section of the IWA. Founded in 2007, it has groups in several cities, three regional groups and an Education Union, which includes both students and teachers and is open to all workers in educational facilities. It stands against capitalism, wage labour, the state and all hierarchical forms of domination. It has been involved in a number of labour disputes already, including unionizing (and repression) in an international translation and tech localization company, at a bookshop/ cafe and a vegetarian restaurant, at 3 temporary work agencies, a bus company, a construction company and Polish State Railways. Besides this, it has acted as support numerous times for hospital and postal workers. In addition to its activity in labour, ZSP participates widely in the anarchist and social movements, in which ZSP activists often play a leading role. These include the tenants movement, the movements against the privatization of hospitals and education, the anti-militarist movement and the movement against repression of immigrants and the EU agency Frontex.
The Educaton Union of ZSP has been setting up a nationwide network of doctoral students, who as university lecturers, work for less than even the scandalously low minimum wage. There has already been a protest in one unversity, with support coming in from around the country. It is trying to organize so that in the near future, some sort of effective labour action may be held. (Optimally this would take place at the beginning of the next academic year, but still the majority of lecturers are afraid to undertake such an action.)
Recently it has organized the first labour campaign in Poland in a traditionally unorganized sector, dominated by casual working relationships – the restaurant industry. Although it was only moderately successful, forcing the restaurant chain to stop some illegal practices but failing to win (as yet) any great improvement in working conditions, it sent out a signal to the bosses. It also helped people in this sector (dominated by young people, especially women) to learn more about their rights in the workplace.
ZSP is now especially active in the area of informing people of their rights at work through publications such as brochures and its paper, as well as through the internet where it runs, among other things, the portal “Pracownik” and a few forums, including one for postal workers. ZSP has built and kept ties with angry workers around the country who, although not part of the the group, cooperate to some extent with it. It has been helping dissaffected workers who are isolated or who get no cooperation from their unions to publicize their grievances; sometimes these cases then get widespread media coverage and some sort of pressure is exerted on the bosses. This has been the case with the building site of the National Stadium in Warsaw, where some workers were killed due to violations of health and safety regulations, at a construction company where foreign workers were not being paid, or at a chocolate factory where another worker was killed.
ZSP is officially critical of the mainstream unions, although we recognize that there are often well-intentioned people in these unions at the rank and file level. However, it often happens that the ones who are organizing effectively against the bosses become victims of the trade union hierarchy, which prefers to retain the status quo. Therefore we have contact with people like this who, ultimately would like to form more radical unions. We also have offered moral support for those who were screwed by their unions for being too radical. For example, when one uncompromising unionist at Nestle was fired and abandoned by his union, we gathered support for him from other Nestle worker unions and our comrades from Switzerland picketed Nestle HQ. In such a way, we want to do more than just support these concrete struggles. Our vision of the workers movement is not class collaborationist. We also are in favour of grassroots unionism, controlled directly by the rank and file. This is something rather exotic and radical for Poland, where the labour movement is totally hierarchical and often extremely undemocratic. Thus, we view our attempts to make such contacts as a way of spreading our ideas more widely, beyond our traditional allies.
We also are interested in the experiences of similar groups around the world and welcome contact.