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ISSUE 64 page 4

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Strikes and demonstrations in Poland as boom comes to an end

FOR SOME YEARS FOLLOWING THE FINANCIAL CRASH OF 2008 Poland seemed to be one of a handful of countries bucking the trend of spiralling debt and unemployment. Growth rates of up to 4.5% were enough to keep the Civic Platform party in power and even to make their leader, Donald Tusk, the first to be re-elected since the fall of Communism. Recently however, the economy has slowed and this, together with new measures to raise the retirement age, lengthen the working week and absorb some private pension funds, has occasioned an upwelling of protest led by trade unions. In March a general strike was held in the industrial region of Silesia over ‘junk’ employment contracts, school closures and job creation incentives as well as objections to the

reforms mentioned above. 85,000 workers from 4,000 companies took part. 
In September trade union federations OPZZ and Solidarność followed up with four nationwide days of action culminating in a demonstration in Warsaw attended by 100,000 people. Unemployment, now running at 13.1%, and the low minimum wage of €2.92 per hour were added to the list of grievances and demands for an improved health and welfare system were also prominent. ‘We want a government that will take care of our interests, so we can live in dignity’ said one protester while director of Solidarność Piotr Duda shouted ‘We're finally waking up’.

A union demonstrator bangs the anti-Tusk drum



ILVA new deal safeguards jobs as owners held

Swedish/German unions start job agencies/advice bureaux

THE GIANT ILVA STEEL PLANT (see issue 62) employs about 12,000 people directly but has been held responsible for an environmental disaster in the town of Taranto in Southern Italy. In an attempt to balance these two considerations the Italian government came up with a plan to keep the plant open following the company’s decision to close it after a court judgement. A three-year clean-up plan will be implemented costing €2.25 billion. In the meantime about half of the workers would have been made redundant under a government wage guarantee fund applied for by the company but  the trade unions have now negotiated a ‘solidarity contract’ which reduces this number to 3,749. In return the unions have accepted a reduction in hours of up to 34% but say that  employees will lose less pay than under the original scheme and premiums, holidays and paid time off will be protected. The agreement will run for two years but ILVA have promised that there will be no collective redundancies at the end of this period. It also sets up a committee including members from the government, unions, local councils and environmental bodies to monitor the reclamation process.
Meanwhile members of the Riva family who own ILVA and other steelmakers in Italy and abroad have been held under house arrest as a court seized €900 million under suspicion of tax fraud. Production has been halted at family-owned plants in northern Italy employing some 1,400 workers. The National Secretary of the FIM CISL union Marco Bentivogli commented that workers were being damaged ‘that do not have any responsibility [for the case]’.

TRADE UNIONS IN GERMANY AND SWEDEN have gone beyond their normal rôles in negotiating pay and conditions to help groups of workers whom they feel are being failed by the state authorities. On the accession of Croatia to the EU German unions believe that there will be exploitation of migrants as happened following the previous two enlargements in 2004 and 2007. ‘We meet people who work for three euros per hour in slaughterhouses’ said project worker Katarina Frankovic; similar cases are known in caretaking, hotels, catering, and care of the elderly according to Nikolaus Landgraf, DGB (TUC equivalent) chair in the Baden-Württemberg region. ‘We stand up for employees who are in a weak position because they cannot speak the language well, and often fall victims to exploitation and even human trafficking’ he stressed. The project now has six information centres in Germany where employees can get advice not only in German and English, but also in eastern European languages.
In Sweden the IF Metall union is profoundly dissatisfied with the national jobs agency which, it says, is too slow both at finding jobs and setting up training for the long-term unemployed. ‘It takes six months to educate a welder who then becomes employable’ said a union spokesperson ‘We know there is demand because we are present in workplaces where managers feel they can't get a hold of competent employees’. The agency has been criticised for giving back some of its government grant whilst handling only 14% of recruitment by small businesses. To improve matters IF Metall has set up a ‘Competence Database’ which will help its 340,000 members, 10% of whom are currently without work, to find jobs.

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