Polish health workers are involved in a major battle against the right wing government. They are demanding pay rises.
Up to 2,000 health workers, mainly nurses, have been camped outside the prime minister’s chancellery in Warsaw, Poland’s capital, since Tuesday of last week. Four trade union negotiators are occupying one of the offices in the chancellery.
The tent city was set up following a 20,000 strong demonstration by all the health sector unions. There had been a similar demonstration last year.
This time around 80 nurses were determined that they would not just go home after it had finished.
They just stayed in front of the prime minister’s building and that night slept in the open air on the main road.
Early the next morning the police roughly forced them onto the pavement. This outraged other health workers who began coming back in force.
Since then delegations of miners, teachers, metal workers and transport workers have come to the camp to show solidarity.
The FZZ union federation, which includes the main nurses’ union, first threatened strike action if the police were used against the occupiers of the prime minister’s chancellery.
It is now saying that it may issue a solidarity strike call anyway to workers outside the health service.
The government strategy of ignoring the health workers because of their supposed weakness has blown up in its face.
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the right wing populist prime minister, whose twin brother holds the presidency, heads a coalition government which includes the extreme right.
Poland has been heralded as a neoliberal success story following a crash programme of privatisation.
The economy grew by 7.4 percent in the first three months of this year with foreign investment reaching new highs last year.
Unemployment has been falling. This is not caused primarily by emigration. Productivity levels are increasing. This has not stopped the government attacking pension rights.
Recently an attempt to change the retirement package for rail workers was met with the threat of a strike. This forced Kaczynski to back off.
Tax cuts for the rich have led to an increase in the number of billionaires and a growing gap between rich and poor.
The government pleads that in order to keep within European Union budget limits it cannot pay the nurses.
Elwira, a Polish nurse working in Britain, wrote to Socialist Worker, “How is it possible that no mention has been made in the British media about a massive industrial action in Poland of nurses and doctors?
“They are protesting against low pay and poor working conditions.
“They have been now joined by miners, who also support their action.
“The Polish government has not started any talks with the nurses.
“This reflects the current government attitude to internal Polish problems, and the working class.
“I feel for my colleagues back home.
“Some of them have still not been paid for their work last month.
“If they don’t turn up for work, however, they will be threatened with disciplinary action.”
Joanna Puszwacka is a member of the Pracownicza Demokracja socialist group in Poland