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(en) Poland, Workers' Initiative*: Strike at Krowarzywa restaurant in Warsaw - urgent call for solidarity

Date Tue, 6 Sep 2016 12:37:22 +0300

On Monday 20th of june the strike broke out in Krowarzywa - popular Warsaw restaurant serving vegan burgers. It was a final stage of the conflict between the employees and employers, which lasted for the last few months. This conflict was caused by changes recently introduced in the company along with its development. The owners recently opened two new restaurants and the third one was moved to the bigger place. However, the company's success did not translate into better work conditions. Quite the contrary - more work was put on the employees while the work rules and the salaries remained the same. The owners gave the staff a clear message that no decisions would be consulted with them anymore. Installing the monitoring (CCTV) in the place without employees' consent and knowledge was one of the examples of this new approach to the "human resources" management. This, along with the fear of being fired triggered the establishing of the branch of the Workers' Initiative Union on Sunday, 19th of June. The first union member was fired on the very same day (though the dismissal was not officially caused by his union membership, it was seen as a forerunner of another dismissals in the nearest future; moreover the dismissal was done without written notification and without clear reason).

On the next day, the employees informed the owners about the establishing of the union and handed over the list of their claims. Apart from bringing back their colleague to work, they also demanded: the change of the way their salaries were counted (fixed rate per hour instead of sale's percentage), granting work contracts to those employed unofficially and on the so called "thrash agreements" (civic contracts) and recognizing the union.

The employers responded with lockout but the employees refused to leave the place and started its occupation. Few dozen people gathered in front of the restaurant expressing their support for the protesters. The case also attracted the mainstream media, which started a discussion about the work conditions in gastronomy. In the face of external pressure, the owners agreed on negotiations. At the same time, workers in the other restaurant belonging to the same owners stopped their work. Negotiations lasted two days but unfortunately resulted with fiasco.

The employers refused to bring the dismissed worker back to work, which was protesters' crucial claim. At the same time, they also managed to divide and agitate the people working in different restaurants. On the third day of the protest, the employees of the other Krowarzywa restaurant in Warsaw got back to work and issued a letter in which they distanced themselves from the strikers and declared their loyalty to the owners. This provoked a picket line in front of this restaurant with around 60-70 people attending with shouts like: "Solidarity is our weapon", "No to exploitation", "workers' rights - our rights", "no to workers' rights violation", "our struggle in a just cause".

Strike and picket line were used by the owners to start mass campaign of defaming the unionists in social media, dividing the pro-animal activists all over Warsaw. Questions about the "adequacy" of the chosen forms of struggle were posed and provoked different answers.

In spite of tough situation, the employees do not surrender and continue their protest. Their struggle is of huge importance for the entire gastronomy branch in Poland where exploitation is a wide-spread phenomenon. We call for solidarity with those on strike and for spreading the information about the protest. We especially address this call to all the unions established in gastronomy, that know the hard and precarious working conditions in this sector.


Inicjatywa Pracownicza - Workers' Initiative

Inicjatywa Pracownicza (IP, Workers' Initiative) was formed in Poland in 2001 first as an informal group of worker activists willing to unite and fight at their own workplaces and to support other workers' struggle. In September 2004, IP was established as a formal but independent and grass-roots trade union, seeing itself in the anarcho-syndicalist and revolutionary syndicalism tradition. Inicjatywa Pracownicza build on self-organization of workers and radical democracy without bureaucracy and leaders on permanent post. Creation of IP was a reaction to crisis of the Polish official union movement - to its bureaucracy, passivity and links with the anti-social and anti-workers governments.

IP sections includes three types: (1) formed by workers from the same company; (2) by workers from different companies and industries; (3) local section by workers, students or unemployed, from one city or region. Sections are self-organized and run their activity autonomously. IP has a national committee, elected every two years by the congress of section delegates. In March 2013, the 8th national congress of delegates took place.

IP gathers workers from various industries - e.g. the health service (hospitals, kindergartens), the shipyard industry (e.g. Cegielski factory in Poznan), public administration, art and culture workers (in 3 theaters, a public gallery and freelancers) -, precarious workers, like those from temporary agencies, students and unemployed. In 2009, the group "Women with Initiative" was found with a focus on the struggle and situation of female workers.

Today, there are around 20 IP-sections and dozens of individual members in Warsaw, Poznan, Kostrzyn, Krakow, Opole and others. Many IP members have faced repression by bosses, and often were dismissed. IP defends them in the labor courts, but it's main tools of activity are direct actions, pickets and leafleting.

Inicjatywa Pracownicza organize workplace activity, but also join larger mobilizations and protests, and runs campaigns outside the workplaces through direct actions, leaflets, publications, and conferences, educational events. The union publishes "Workers' Initiative"-bulletin (distributed in 5,000 copies free of charge) and a series of manuals on labor, union and strike laws (including solidarity strikes).

Main topics of campaigns in recent years were: changes in the labor law, right to strike, the situation of Polish migrant workers, rights of the employees of temporary agencies and other precarious workers. In 2013 IP organized or actively supported (1) a demonstrationin Gorzow (West Poland) demanding unpaid salaries of hospital workers in Kostrzyn and the stop of the privatization of health services[see pictures]; (2) a Mayday demonstration in Wroclaw under the slogan "Poland: Special Exploitation Zone"; (3) an hours-long picket on the first anniversary of the strike at the Chung Hong Electronics factory near Wroclaw[see pictures]; and (4) a mobilization during the "days of protest" in September in Warsaw (where we co-organized an anti-capitalist bloc under the slogan "Time for a General Strike")[see pictures].

IP engages also in struggles of social movements: in Warsaw and Poznan we support local "Right to Housing" organizations of tenants, help blocking evictions, and fight against rent increases, aggressive landlords, and the banks behind them. We support independent social centers, feminist and antifascist movement.

Outside Poland, IP has a regular exchange within the "Red and Black Coordination" of anarcho-syndicalist trade unions. IP tries to support major self-organized workers' struggles, militant syndicates, and groups of workers and worker activists.
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