Polish bus workers defeat privatization, Kielce, 2007

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Timing
Time Period:  
4 June
2007
to
30 August
2007
Location and Goals
Country: 
Poland
Location City/State/Province: 
Kielce
Goals: 
If MPK were to be sold to Veolia Transportation, a French company, the unions demanded a 'social package' with five years of job protection, high compensations for layoffs, and wage increases.
 

In the southern Polish city of Kielce, in the late 2000s, a public bus company, MPK (Miejskie Przedsiębiorstwo Komunikacyjne), employed around 630 people and ran 160 buses regularly in the city. For several years, the company had been struggling to survive. It had been put under a traffic planning authority, ZTM, which controlled business operations and pushed it into debt. Working conditions were also unfavorable: wages were low, bus schedules didn't allow drivers regular breaks, and it became difficult for the company to hire new employees. Furthermore, the bus that took drivers home after work was canceled, so many had to walk long distances home after their shifts.

In late 2006 Kielce's Mayor Lubawski announced plans to privatize MPK and sell it to the French company, Veolia Transportation. The unions were not completely against privatization, but demanded a 'social package' with five years of job protection, high compensations for layoffs, and wage increases. Veolia would only guarantee job protection, and only for some employees.

The conflict escalated when the mayor announced that the Veolia deal would go ahead. On June 4, 2007, 480 employees participated in a strike ballot organized by Solidarność ('Solidarity', a Polish trade union federation). 450 voted for the strike.

On June 19, the city signed a preliminary contract with Veolia. Two days later, MPK workers demonstrated in front of city hall, entering the building to taunt city councilors. The following day, workers held a warning strike from 4:00 to 8:00a.m. Only 6 out of the 160 buses were in operation. MPK management and the mayor called the strike illegal because warning strikes were supposed to run for only two hours. The Mayor threatened to fire all MPK employees and contract out bus traffic to other private carriers in case of future strikes.

On June 28, workers held another warning strike from 12:00 to 4:00a.m. Since the strike was outside traffic hours, there was no reaction from management or the mayor.

During the end of June and into July negotiations took place between the unions and Veolia about the social package. No progress was made.

On August 2, MPK drivers collectively donated blood, meaning they could take the rest of the day off work, essentially going on strike. However, on August 10, Solidarność announced an unlimited strike would begin four days later. The Mayor threatened to fire MPK strikers immediately.

On the fourteenth of August, not a single bus drove onto the streets. 200 drivers sat in front of the operation yard, refusing to let managers enter, including the Chair of MPK. The workers voted to continue the unlimited strike and elected a strike committee. The Mayor refused to talk to the strike committee because he claimed the strike was illegal.

On August 15, a Catholic Mass religious service was held on the premises of the operation yard. Workers struggled to find a priest given that the bishop, also the Mayor's brother-in-law, prohibited his priests from saying Mass in MPK.

Several days later, the city and Veolia hired 80 replacement buses with drivers from other cities. The strikebreaker buses began to serve the city's most trafficked bus lines. 150 MPK workers blocked the gate to the MPK operation yard, where the replacement buses were to be parked, forcing them to park on a lawn outside town.

Days later, 17 members of the strike committee were fired without notice. Around this time, sources report instances of persons throwing bricks at strikebreaker buses. The identities of the brick throwers are not known.

On August 23, city police ticketed strikers for setting up a table to collect signatures in the city center without permission. The Mayor and the Solidarność leader met afterward for negotiations with little result.

On August 28, MPK workers demonstrated in front of the ZTM's downtown offices. That night, about 30 workers continued to occupy the MPK operation yard, sleeping in buses or private cars. Around 1:00a.m., 70 security guards in riot gear arrived at the yard, pulling sleeping workers from the buses and cars, beating some, and chasing them off the premises. The Mayor had ordered the action to prevent a 'terrorist attack on a bus.' Some suggest that the occupied yard and buses were cleared in order to be given to strikebreakers. Later that morning, around 8:00a.m., over 100 workers returned to the operation yard for a nonviolent occupation. They entered through several entrances at once, surprising the security guards, forcing them to retreat to their small office. Many police arrived, but only watched since the workers were being nonviolent.

The occupation immediately won national attention from the press. Public opinion turned against Kielce's Mayor. Unions and left-wing groups issued protests and politicians and media voiced criticisms of the Mayor. National newspapers that had hardly paid any attention to the strike so far turned it into their top story for the next day. Broadcasting vans arrived at the operation yard to cover the story.

By afternoon of the occupation, the security guards had left the premises under police protection and much cheering from the workers. Negotiations between the Mayor and strike committee led to the Mayor's promise that no more security forces would be dispatched again. By evening, there were about 70 workers and some younger left-wing supporters from other cities occupying the operation yard.

The next morning, August 30, negotiations continued. By noon, MPK's Solidarność leader had successfully ended talks with the mayor. The results were announced that afternoon at a press conference. MPK would not be sold to Veolia but would be transformed into a 'workers' company', meaning 15 percent of the companies shares would be given to the workers for free and at least 51 percent would be sold to them. The strike was officially over. The Mayor reinstated the fired members of the strike committee and renewed the city's contracts with MPK.

After 17 days, the bus drivers won the strike. With MPK not being sold to Veolia, workers didn't have to fear layoffs. However, workers still had other grievances that weren't addressed by the strike. Low wages and difficult relations between ZTM and MPK remained an issue. Also, MPK's former debt would be passed on to the workers.

Research Notes
Sources: 
"Bus drivers' strike in Poland - workers' self-management as a victory? 2007." libcom.org (2010): Web. 3 May 2010. <http://libcom.org/history/bus-drivers-strike-poland-workers-self-management-victory-2007>.

Towalski, Rafal. "Transport workers get company ownership following dispute." European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, 2008. Institute of Public Affairs. Web. 3 May 2010. <http://www.isp.org.pl/files/12693651570022980001220604332.pdf>.

Additional Notes: 
Edited by Max Rennebohm (18/07/2011)
Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Zein Nakhoda, 4/5/2010