This text is going to describe the historical and present meaning of the
Cegielski factory in Poznan for the workers’ movement in Poland, and the
history of activity of Workers’ Initiative in the factory since 2002. We
are also going to show the development of the strategy of wildcat strike
called “płyta” during this years, for which a key activist of IP was
recently sentenced in the Polish court. Last but not least, the article
shows the recent influence of the global crises in the shipyards industry
on the situation of Cegielski workers: 500 of them were fired, what
mobilized others to mass demonstration in October 2009.

Since 2002 the Workers Initiative (Inicjatywa Pracownicza – IP) has been
working closely with the workers of Cegielski plant in Poznan, successively
convincing the majority of the workers of its tactics. These tactics are
based on several simple principles: end of the conciliatory politics
towards the enterprise management which were conducted here by trade
unions; assurance of full access of the workers to information on the
situation of the enterprise as well as on the situation of particular
groups of workers employed in Cegielski; assurance of worker participation
in the taking of relevant decisions; finally, creation of the ground for
direct actions and struggles controlled from below.

The Meaning of the Cegielski Factory

Cegielski plant is one of the most famous plant in Poland. It was founded
in 1846. For now, Cegielski produces in the first place various types of
engines, among them ship-engines (while Poland is one of the leading
producers of ships worldwide), as well as waggons and trams. For many years,
Cegielski had been one of the biggest workplace in the western part of
Poland. In the ’70s, during the most productive years of the plant, more
than 20 000 people were working here. In the beginning of 2009 there are 2
800 employees here. Its size and the importance for the regional economy
were some of the main reasons why the class struggle has always been
concentrating in Cegielski. The first strike took place here in 1872. In
the period between the world wars (1918-1939), the workers of Cegielski
undertook smaller and bigger actions, strikes and demonstrations many
times. The first strike actions after the war started already in autumn
1945, and in 1956 workers of Cegielski initiated the militant proletarian
insurgence which held for a few days and took over the whole of Poznan. In
the militant clashes with forces of the Polish army and police around 70
protesters were killed. The next wave of protests in the plant took place
in the ’80s, however Cegielski did not play a leading role during the
revolution of 1980.

In the ’90s the situation in the plant had become quiet. On the one hand,
the workers let themselves be scared with the threat of dismissal; on the
other hand, salaries in Cegielski exceeded the average salaries in the
country at this period. Only with the beginning of the new century the new
protest actions started as a reaction to another wave of dismissals and
radical decreases of the gains. In this period the Workers Initiative (IP)
entered into the plant with the intention of the necessity to undertake a
radical struggle for the interests of the workers.

Beginning of Workers Initiative at Cegielski

One of the first successes was a demonstration with the intention to stop
the dismissals in June 2002. About 1000 workers from Cegielski and other
plants in Poznan went to the streets. However, numerous actions did not
manage to put an end to dismissals and gain decrease. But IP had gained
quite wide support which e.g. resulted in the fact that one of its members,
a lathe worker, Marcel Szary, was chosen in 2003, 2006 and 2009 by the
whole plant workforce as its delegate for the enterprise management. He won
very radically each time against the candidates of the big traditional
trade unions present in the factory. At the same time, IP was still
undertaking regular protest actions gaining improvements of work conditions
and financial benefits in many issues. In spring 2006, IP undertook an
attempt to organise a regular strike. The legal way of its organising did
not work out. By use of threats, the management and the other trade unions
managed to create a situation in which less than the necessary 50% of the
workers participated in the strike referendum. Learning from this
experience, activists of the IP in Cegielski decided on a radical change of
tactics starting with a series of short wildcat strikes. These strikes
often took the form of rallies during which the workforce was deciding
together and directly about further developments.

“Płyta” – a Form of Wildcat Strike

This strategy started on March 29, 2007. At this day, IP had called the
management to start negotiations on wages. At the same time, IP from the
beginning refused the possibility of leading the talks in the cabinets and
offices (behind closed doors) and call the negotiations to take place in
the workers’ club on the area of the factory so that all interested workers
could participate directly in the talks. For the first meeting about 200
workers appeared, but the management refused to come. The gathered workers
then conducted an assembly and decided that on the next day they will
conduct a so called “płyta” (“platform/square”) – a term which in the
jargon of Cegielski workers describes an informal break in the work during
which the workers conduct the assembly. On March 30, 2007, most of the
employees of the morning shift participated in the “płyta”. As the
management was still refusing participation in negotiations, the workers
went out on the street and conducted a march to the management offices
(about 1 km away from the gate of the factory). The next “płyta” took place
on April 3, 2007. On this day the chairman of the enterprise appeared and
promised to begin the talks.

These have been the beginnings of the struggle. The management, however,
was not giving up so easily. On April 16, 2007, the workers called by the
IP did not come to work (90% of the staff) undertaking an “absence strike”
using the possibility of taking a so called “leave on demand” (according to
Polish Labour Code, every employee is allowed to demand 4 days leave at any
moment by simply informing the employer at the first day of the leave). It
was then sort of a half-legal strike. At the same time, some hundreds of
workers gathered on the square in front of the management offices in the
morning hours in order to protest and demand increases.

These protests continued with different frequency until April 3, 2008.
Altogether IP has organised 10 so called “płyta” in this period, which have
been between 20 min and 3 hours long, 5 demonstrations in which
participated between 100-400 persons and one “absence strike” in which 90%
of the personnel participated. As a result of this struggle which focused
on the aspect of gains, the wages increased by about 700 zl (about 170 euro
– exchange rate: 12.11.2009) and an extra premium of 1000 zl (240 euro). At
the beginning of 2007 the average gross salary in Cegielski was about 2850
zloty (690 euro), so in about one year an increase of about 25% was

Repressions for “Płyta”

On November 3, 2009, the Polish court found Marcel Szary guilty of
organizing and leading three wildcat strikes in Cegielski in 2008 and he
was sentenced to a fine of 3 000 zl (730 euro). Not only the state
prosecution demanded to punish Szary, but also the bosses of the plant, who
demanded a verdict of banning him to hold an office in the management of
the factory. The court ultimately decided to limit the verdict to the
financial fine.

It is worth noting that Marcel Szary (born in 1964) was a member of the
Solidarity Trade Union since 1980. Between 1988-1991 he was a head of the
plant-based Solidarity union in the W-2, the largest and most important
department of the Cegielski factory that produces ship engines. In 2000,
not agreeing with the conciliatory policy of Solidarity union, he gives up
the membership of the union, and in June 2004, he starts a new union
Workers’ Initiative. Today he is still one of its key activists.

Result of the Crisies: 500 Workers Fired, a Demonstration of 4 000

In 2008, a very deep crisis erupted in Polish shipyards, which also had an
influence on Cegielski, as ship engine production is one of the most
important in the factory. Some time after that, the crisis influenced also
shipyards in Germany and China, which also were major customers of
Cegielski. This could be noticed in factory orders in the mid-2009. In June
2009, mass layoffs of about 500 workers were announced. Workers’ Initiative
began to organize protests (several pickets and demonstrations in front of
the factory) against firing workers, while at that time other trade unions
cooperated with the management. Only on October, 23, 2009 almost 4.000
workers from different trade unions (and various plants) took part in a
demonstration in defense of workplaces. Also members of Wokers’ Initiative
and anarchists participated in the protest.

The demonstrators first gathered on the premises of the factory and then
moved towards the Provincial Office. The common bloc of Workers’ Initiative
and Sierpien ’80, together with the anarchists was chanting slogans such as
“Government out to the pavement, paving stones on the government”, “One,
two, three, four, stop those damn dismissals”, “A worker dismissed, a boss
hanged”, “Capitalism isn’t working! factories under the control of workers”
etc. Rhythms of Resistance samba group from Poznan supported the demo with
their rhythms. A banner saying “A worker dismissed, a boss hanged” was
dropped from one building on the route of the demo.

When the demonstration reached the Provincial Office, the leaders of
Solidarnosc trade union were declaring a radical fight in defence of the
workplaces and even “burning the Office”, at the same time they were
burning car tyres. When the IP members and anarchists joined the shipyard
workers in the back of the office building clashes with the police broke
out, then the shipyard workers retreated as they were told to by their
leaders. Three policemen were hurt and some activists might expect the
legal proceeding against them for and attack on the policemen.

The Present Situation

Workers’ Initiative continues to fight to save jobs in the factory of
Cegielski. We are also trying to organize the fired workers who stay
unemployed in order to carry out the protest (for example to put pressure
on the local government who at the moment is trying to increase prices of
water and public transport in the city of Poznan). Unfortunately, the IP
activists from Cegielski recently are facing repressions. In addition to
the sentence of Marcel Szary, four workers active in the IP from its the
very beginning were released. Therefore, we are also organizing support and
protest against this repressions. This struggle is important not only to
the crew of Cegielski, but to our all union, which basically was created
and has developed through the activity of Cegielski workers.