Interview for “Abolishing the Borders from Below” (ABB) with Bartek Kantorczyk – Initiator of Massive Wildcat Strike in Polish Post in 2006, right now repressed and fired Anarchist Postman
ABB: Hello. In winter 2006 we reported in AbolishingBB about the confrontation between the workers and the management in the Polish Post Office. In this confrontation you played a very important role, did you not? Tell us please what your situation right nów is.
Hallo. It is always like that, nothing is starting by itself and somebody has to give an action start signal. Old but real true. In my case it was so, that I have in general a pretty rebellious character which pushes me to seek for justice in every space of life, not only in my one, but generally in society. And I feel as I was born with anarcho-syndicalist ideas already as when I read my first anarcho-syndicalistic publications I finally understood what my ideas have always been, I could define what I was doing and believing since very long time. Well, I became in fact the first element of the domino which tumbled down the Polish Post firm. I threw my bag with the let-ters in the corner of the room and many postmen around Poland decided to do it then as well. They decided then that this is the right moment to undertake the struggle for dignified work conditions. This was two years ago. And what is my situation nów? Even if the strike finished after some weeks, I never became ąuiet because workers of Polish Post still didn't receive any respect and dignity. The struggle against the exploitation in this firm is still at the very beginning and management is lying that labour can be valued differently, even the same labour that there is not enough money for salaries (while 20 000 bureaucrats of Polish Post are having a very good time!) and telling us that if anybody don't like these circumstances they can be fired. Well at the moment I am unemployed without the right for subsidy. I was fired disciplinary because I was demanding safe work conditions for all postmen employed in the firm. Management believes that they can mąkę differences in terms of safety-measures for postmen delivering retiring pensions and disability payments according to their own will (in Poland they are provided in most cases still directly to the doors and not through bank accounts which is not the most secure work as you can imagine - ABB). At the same time our backs are loaded more and more heavy every year. And we work more and more not paid extra hours. No, I would never agree on it! Saving the profits on the cost of health and life risk of the workers? This is unacceptable! However, other unions and responsible institutions are not protesting at all. They are even giving their signatures under regulations setting such conditions... Well, so I am without work since June 2008. And it is hard time for me. The poverty looks in my eyes as I can not start another job as long as I am demanding compensation from the firm while the living costs are running, I have to pay my rent and I need to eat something to have still strength to fight back against this brutal management. On 9 October we will meet each other in front of the Labour Court (interview was madę few days before the court day - ABB) where I am demanding re-employment and mentioned already compensation. But the process will most probably be very long. For now I am not sure how I will survive this long period. You know, this is a confrontation between a Corporation and an "ant", in my person, and the corporation is trying to use its most heavy artillery against the "ant". They took two different lawyer offices to run this case and they are even trying to force me to cover their costs in case I will lose it! It seems like another "eąual" confrontation! But I am not going to give up under any pressure, even if I have to stop eating. However it is difficult to explain my desperation to my partner and her child. And, unfortunately, the mutual support and solidarity of our movement is very limited and most-ly exists in theoretical sphere. Well, I will go through it with hope in my heart.
ABB: Can you summarised what results brought your strike in 2006 which started so offensively as a wildcat strike and was taken over by bureaucrat-leaders front Solidarity trade union? The strike from which your struggle and your problems began...
How it often happens, also this time, the success has turned into defeat. The fact, the explosion of the very widespread wildcat strike in which several thousand postmen took active part, was successful in itself: ”’grassroots' and illegal protest of brave workers who overcame their fear of disciplinary conseąuences. But without doubts we have to consider as a defeat the minor results of this act, specially if we compare to big expectations and the amount of one month long stress which all these people went through during the strike. Saying very delicately, it was selfishness from the side of the centrals of the big trade unions to sell people out in such a moment. I am blaming unions for active participation in suppressing the resistance and for the negative modification of people's right postulates. By the way, who the fuck agreed on all these crazy regulations we had to fight against now - exactly the big bureaucratic trade unions. They have signed all of that! Well, finally, on 13.12.2006 union delegates had "negotiated" an agreement, which until today wasn't anyway put to the workers, and nobody from the sides which signed it is touching the case anymore. Bastards! The only effective results of our "little revolution" in the Polish Post in 2006 is that we do not need to deliver advertisements, however this only effects agglomerations bigger than 20 000 inhabitants. Another result was the minimal increase of the salaries of about 50-100zl brutto (15-30 euro). But then a number of the signed agreements towards regulation of work-time and work-contracts were never realised.
ABB: From the perspective of two years which have passed since this confrontation, what have you and your work colleagues learned from this strike about conducting of struggle against the bosses?
Me, I ensured myself in not trusting in anything the big unions like "Solidarity" or OPZZ and generał, not let-ting anybody else lead your own struggle in your name, especially not such as politicians and carrier-makers taking care only about their own interests. I was talking loud about it already during the strike but people were not so far at the time and they took this risk, and later were very frustrated with the results of the "negotiations" and were leaving the firm one after another, or left these trade unions which cheated them at the last. The rest of the staff do not believe in any unions any more and most probably it will take a long time till they decide to undertake the struggle again...
ABB: How has the situation in the Polish Post developed in the last months?
Considering the work conditions and the salaries it is a never ending pain in the ass. Privatisation is supposed be a medication against all and is since a long time being prepared. That is why the value of the enterprise is being systematically run down through consciously ignoring the clients, low ąuality and regularity of service. The bosses and their allies want to buy the firm for the lowest possible price and everything what is happening now is subordinate to this idea.
ABB: You are not the only member of Workers Initiative that is facing repression right now. How is WI dealing with this intensifying offensive against its members? What outcomes in this confrontation do you see from today perspective?
There is a long list of repressed activists of Workers' Initiative what above all actually proves that WI is doing right work and the employers are simply starting to smell fear. They are trying to extinguish the sparks of freedom. They talk a lot of lies about us, sending cops to us, making us run from one court case to another, are trying to ignore our structures in various firms giving completely banal reasons. Finally, we are fired one after another, instead of dealing with problems, they deal with us. I have to admit that in fact we have serious problems right now to stand against this attack by employers on our members; it looks, especially financially, very bad. It comes to court cases, which have to be paid at first, already in situations where people are trying only to set a group of Workers' Initiative in the work place so before any actions and structure itself could be really set and therefore first fees gathered, for activities and anti-repression costs. We have many sympathisers around Poland so we still hope that they can help us but, I will repeat here: even within the anarchist movement the acts of solidarity are far from what I would wish to experience. Or maybe there is still łąck of understanding of the importance of what we are doing with WI now - building the unity and upheaval potential of the exploited. Right now, except of dealing with repression, WI is conducting a campaign against the rise in prices, and another one against the implementation of shitty work-contracts. At the same time we are resisting in many places the processes of privatisation and bringing the concepts of workers co-operatives as an alternative allowing workers to run their workplaces under their direct control. Workers* Initiative is as well involved in resistance with tenants who are organising more and more around the country.
If our ideas are spreading through all these activities, time will show, people will hopefully stand up one day. Therefore, however paradoxical it is, the worse the better, then closer to the liberation. The liberals in our country are helping a lot, as people slowly can not move any more backward, they have to start to move forward again soon. So they should push and repress us more...
ABB: During your speech which you recently gave on one gathering you said that "one is a syndicalism all around the clock, and not only at the work place". What do you meant with this?
You know, people are watching radical social activists, and, as such, once I understand the syndicalists, not only in the work place but also outside of it. So you need to be a human in every situation and do not put the words on the wind. In order to win the trust of the people for the ideas you want to spread among them, you need to work many years. You have to take yourself seriously and be honest towards yourself. Otherwise all your activity will lead nowhere. To destroy something is easy, to build something positive - very hard.
ABB: In upcoming weeks another general gathering of Workers’ Initiative will take place. What important issues would you like to discuss there?
For me, however not from a private perspective, very important is the problem with the situation of those fired and left alone without means to live, and therefore to fight as well. I will propose activation of special fund for that, so that membership fees would rise of 2 zł which would go directly to this specific solidarity reserve for those of us finding ourselves without a means to live, so we do not need to cry for help and taking dramatic decisions. Of course inspiration for this proposal is my own situation and I feel sorry that I didn't see this problem before but only when it touched me directly. But I am not the only one that didn't think about this at the right time.
ABB: Bartek, thank you a lot for your time and the interview. Do you want to add anything at the end?
Yes. On October 9 2008 I will defend myself in front of court, and this way I will defend the interests of all polish postmen. I am looking forward for giving this confrontation as much resonance as possible, abroad as well; I am looking forward for acts and actions of solidarity. I am calling all anarchists around the world for more reflection towards the issue of practical solidarity. I see in the movement apathy on the level of practical mutual support, however, I consider myself as well a part of the problem. Are not too many of us spending too much money on alcohol or drugs instead of giving it directly to those which urgently need it? I visited recently Berlin where a benefit party took place to support me in my situation and I have seen so many people spending money for drinks and so less giving donations for which organisers have asked. So finally the benefit money was just a bit more as to cover the costs to organise the benefit. I had bad feeling that people were so blind towards my situation. I was surprised that the people charge money for renting the room for benefit party. I think we should change our attitudes radically otherwise we are running the risk of being seen as a movement of hypocrites in the eyes of young people. Where are we going? What’s with our ideas? Maybe somebody now feels hurt but it is supposed to be constructive criticism. So think rather about the next once in need while me myself I will manage somehow, no problem. The struggle continues!