An all-out education strike in Poland is deepening as workers develop new forms of organisation to run the action.
Unions estimate that over 600,000 workers are taking part—not just teachers, but cooks, cleaners, caretakers and office staff as well. It’s the biggest education strike since 1993 and it began earlier this month.
Talks aimed at resolving the dispute collapsed last week and so the strike will continue.
The most important development was the formation of the Warsaw Interschool Strike Committee (MKS) on last Tuesday.
According to press reports over 50 schools were represented.
One of those present said, “The crowd was so dense that it was difficult to pass. Revolutionary atmosphere.”
The Warsaw MKS now has over 90 schools represented. The cities with similar committees now include Poznan, Krakow, Wroclaw, the Tri-city (Gdansk, Gdynia, Sopot), Lodz, Zakopane, Opole and czy Gorzow Wielkopolski.
A Nationwide Interschool Strike Committee (OMKS) has now been set up made up of MKS committees from all over Poland. Its first meeting will take place in Warsaw on Tuesday, April 23 at the time of the demonstration which has been planned at the Ministry of Education.
An OMKS delegation will also be involved on the union side in the negotiations with the government and strikers the same day. The OMKS is determined that the strike should continue
The Warsaw MKS declared that teachers would boycott the matriculation exams, which are similar to A-Levels. It urged strikers and their supporters to demonstrate in front of the Ministry of Education last Wednesday.
Similar committees have been set up in Lodz, Krakow and Wroclaw.
Strikers from one of the Warsaw boroughs had already planned a small demonstration. Thousands came. People who had been worried were now confident and smiling.
The strike includes nurseries as well as schools. The vast majority of strikers are women. Strikers are demanding a pay rise, but they are angry about many other things too.
Magdalena Kierpiec is a primary school teacher on strike in Czestochowa in southern Poland. She told Socialist Worker, “The main reason for the strike is frustration, never-ending teachers’ duties and the fight for education.
“Despite differences of opinion, we stick together and are very motivated to strike. In my town, Chestochowa, all schools are on strike.”
One secondary school teacher from Radom told Socialist Worker, “The strike is in defence of the quality of teaching. In the past two years this has sharply deteriorated due to hurriedly introduced reform.
“In newly-created eight year primary schools, three years of high school were condensed into two years.
“It will double the number of children during this year recruitment to secondary school.”
The main union involved in the strike is the Polish Teachers’ Union (ZNP) with over 200,000 members.
The second biggest teaching union is Solidarity, which still has the world-famous logo from the time of the ten-million strong workers’ rebellion against the Stalinist regime in 1980-81.
Scandalously, Solidarity leaders are now acting as strike-breakers.
The Radom teacher said, “Teachers feel betrayed by the heirs of the legendary Solidarity union. It has stopped fighting for workers’ rights and begun working on behalf of the government.”
But they added, “Despite the government’s manipulation of the media, protesters meet with numerous manifestations of sympathy and understanding on the part of parents and students.”
Teachers are rebelling after Solidarity union leaders retreat
Initially unions were demanding a 1,000 zloty a month wage rise—about £200. But union leaders cut their demands in a misguided attempt to show they are being “reasonable”. Many teachers disagreed with that.
The Solidarity union teachers’ leader, Ryszard Proksa, signed a deal with the government on the eve of the strike for a lot less—roughly half—of what strikers are asking for. He even threatened union members who joined the strike with expulsion.
For historical reasons, Solidarity leaders have a very close relationship with Poland’s hard right Law and Justice (PiS) government. Proksa is a councillor.
But the overwhelming majority of Solidarity teachers are striking. Some regions of the union are demanding Proksa’s resignation.Teachers are crossing out the Solidarity logo on strike badges. Some are even leaving the union.
The authorities have made it very difficult to organise a legal strike. Each of the thousands of schools had to individually start a collective dispute at the local level.
This was meant to atomise teachers. But the demand for action among them was so high that this backfired. School strike committees were set up and there was close cooperation among rank and file teachers—not only between the various union members, but also with those who were not in any union.
So now hundreds of thousands of non-union teachers and school workers are striking as well. A special strike fund has been set up to cover those such as Solidarity members and non-unionists.
The government is desperate to beat the teachers. Police have entered some schools asking questions. In order to make sure that middle school exams took place the government brought in unqualified people were brought in to supervise them.
The government is right to be worried. Workers are deeply angry they are not seeing the benefits of Poland’s relatively high economic growth in recent years.
Teacher Magdalena said the government had made an “avalanche of promises” during parliamentary elections.
“We were told that things are going great and we will have money for everything,” she said. “But we felt completely differently. Despite government promises that nobody will lose work, many teachers lost their jobs.”
Last week the ZNP union leadership met and vowed to continue the strike.
ZNP member and striking Warsaw teacher Agnieszka Kaleta said, “Everyone was very pleased with the decision. We can win—the strikers are solid. In my school all of us come in and we discuss the organisation of the strike every day.”
The strikers may inspire other workers to strike. Let’s hope so.
The teachers and other school and nursery workers are in a powerful position. They need to make sure that their leaders do not retreat.