Last year the governing party in Poland proclaimed that it could build a miracle economy.
Events are changing so fast that many politicians and economists have been made to look stupid. Leszek Balcerowicz, author of Poland’s neoliberal “shock therapy” in the early 1990s, said, “We do not have a crisis of the free market. We do not have a crisis of capitalism.”
Finance minister Jacek Rostowski claimed as late as 30 September that, “Poles can sleep peacefully – our economy is immune to the financial crisis.” Two days later, he announced the government had drawn up an emergency plan to rescue the financial sector.
It had been argued that Poland was an emergent economy with a respectable growth rate which would escape the problems of the big economies. It soon became clear that this was not the case.
The massive problems of recession in Germany – Poland’s biggest trading partner – are directly undermining the Polish economy. The eurozone is entering recession, as are the 30 most industrialised countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
The financial sector has already been affected by the crisis. It is much harder for people to get mortgages and banks are tightening up on loans. The meltdown on global stock exchanges has hit Polish pensioners hard.
Everyone is expecting the jobless total to rise. The General Motors car factory in Gliwice stopped production for 15 days in October. More breaks in production are planned before the end of the year.
The government is now trying to make massive cuts in social provisions of all kinds. Prime minister Donald Tusk wants to cut the number of workers with the right to retire early on full pensions from over one million to around 250,000.
Workers have demonstrated against these plans, with the union federations calling joint action for the first time. Railway workers from various unions have blocked train tracks in three towns.
On Wednesday of last week, some 200 trade unionists from the “August 80” union occupied the prime minister’s parliamentary office in Warsaw.
In 1989 many Polish workers had fought against a police state where the economy was nationalised. That meant they could easily be led to believe that the free market really did have something to do with freedom.
The current crisis marks a real turning point. People have begun to see the system as unfair, now increasing numbers see that it simply does not work.
Andy Zebrowski is a member of Pracownicza Demokracja (Workers’ Democracy) in Poland. Their website (in Polish) is at » www.pracowniczademokracja.org