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As ZSP approaches its 15th anniversary next month, Laure Akai takes a look back at the experiences of the union.

This downloadable PDF briefly describes many of ZSP's work conflicts and mentions other areas of its activity.


On September 25, a group of cleaners from the hospital in Jaworzno held a protest to demand better working conditions. The cleaners marched from the Municipal Office through the central part of town to the hospital.

The protest highlighted a number of demands of the cleaners. Like many such workers in Poland, their jobs are outsourced to an outside company (although in this hospital, some cleaners are also hired directly by the hospital). The firm that is supposed to provide cleaning services is Impel, a huge company that specializes in providing cleaning and security services. However, Impel has been using other companies in the hospital to avoid responsibility. The workers are cheated out of overtime pay as they are forced to sign 2 or 3 contracts and the main employer claims they work the statutory limit and are working for somebody else as well, not overtime with them. The use of multiple employers also affects people on trash contracts because there are laws that limit the number of temporary trash contracts one employer can sign before the contract should become permanent.

So one of the main demands of the cleaners is direct employment with the hospital and normal contracts for everybody. Currently, the cleaners in the hospital have different working conditions – some are hired directly, some on normal work contracts and some on trash contracts – through a variety of firms that Impel is using to avoid responsibility.

The workers want to be paid properly for night shifts and extra if they work overtime, which is required by law.

Another problem in the hospital is the fact that the cleaners all should have received a special payment already for working during the COViD pandemic. All health care workers were entitled to this, but part of the cleaners did not receive it yet.

Finally, as of July 2021, the government raised the minimum salaries in health care jobs. This raise also concerned cleaners but they did not get a raise. This may be that those who work directly through hospitals receive these raises, but the firms that provide services from outside do not feel obliged to raise the wages.

After the cleaners met to articulate their demands, they spoke to the local media about their problems and said that they might go on strike. Impel reacted to this by trying to intimidate workers and get them to sign a statement that everything is good. This is a typical move from the union-buster's handbook.

Cleaners are usually the most precarious health care workers. Their jobs are often outsourced and not very stable and they are treated as very expendable. For this reason, they are not as organized as other health care workers. On September 11, health care workers from all over Poland demonstrated in the capital and set up a camp in front of the Council of Ministers. However cleaners were absent which reflects the low level of organization in this field. While nurses, doctors, EMTs and other professionals are still protesting, the cleaners from Jaworzno are currently the only group which has organized itself and taken action.

Despite Impel's attempt to intimidate the workers, on September 25 the protest took place as planned. It started at the Munipal Office because it is responsible for the hospital. The workers talked about their conditions and demanded that the municipality take action. Then they marched through the town, through the main square, handing out copies of „Direct Action” dedicated to health care workers and their situation. They finished at the hospital.

Nobody was sure what would happen when they went back to work but one woman received her payment for working during COViD and the Impel people started to cynically claim that the workers themselves wanted to have all the different contracts. It looks as if the company got a little spooked but nothing has changed yet. The situation is still dynamic and the workers are waiting to see what will happen next week and how they should develop the conflict if the situation is not resolved.


In October 2020, ZSP published „Fighting Back”, a longer article detailing various
examples of how the union has fought against different types of wage theft. (The
article is available here in English: .) The article was written to precede the International Week of Action against Unpaid Wages which the IWA held from October 12-18, 2020. It was decided to repeat the week of actions again, this time from October 11-17, 2021.

As we stated in the previous article, wage theft is an enormous problem in Poland and comes in various forms. It is made far worse by the fact that the legal system is practically useless in terms of helping workers and cheating employers know that if they steal, they are very likely to get away with it. This has been one area where ZSP has had quite unique success. Almost no mainstream unions deal with this issue in most of its most common forms, especially when it concerns categories of workers that it routinely ignores: those working on trash contracts or without contracts at all. However, wage theft also occurs in workplaces where unions are present. ZSP has taken on many cases that the mainstream unions won't touch, thus making it an effective tool for workers' direct action.


From June 25-27, the IWA Plenary and Extraordinary Congress took place. Due to government-imposed travel restrictions, it could not take place in Slovakia, as originally planned, but was conducted online. The positive side of this was that around 80 delegates and observers from around the globe took part and there was no need for anybody to deal with discriminatory visa politics.

The main news was that two Friend organizations – ULET from Colombia and WAS from Austria – decided to become Sections of the IWA. We also welcomed new organizations from Pakistan (WSI) and the Phillipines (MK) as Friends. The Extraordinary Congress also formally recognized that Solidaridad Obrera, which recently took steps to federate, is the continuation of our Friends of the IWA in Chile.

The Plenary dealt with some questions of internal organization but also with issues such as the upcoming centenary of the IWA. A number of events are being planned in different cities and a centenary Congress will take place in Spain.

The IWA also decided to repeat the international actions against unpaid wages that were also held in 2020 but were somewhat limited in scope due to the COViD-19 pandemic.

There was also a discussion on workplace organizer training that a few of our Sections carry out and others have participated in. A couple of Sections said that they would be holding new sessions this year.

The Plenary approved proposals for publications related to the IWA for the upcoming centenary which will be part of a publishing initiative approved at the 2019 Congress. The Plenary also approved the creation of a working group that will focus on the climate crisis.

We are looking forward to seeing the work of the IWA develop and to the events of our Centenary.


Since October, a number of workers have been fighting against the wage theft that happened and is happening at Tumiraj educational center in Warsaw. In November, two pickets were held at the center but instead of paying, the boss tried to make ridiculous claims to the police. In the middle of December, the union went to the boss's house. He appeared and talked to the police, claiming not to know anything about this and when he saw us try to approach him, he ran into the woods behind his house and disappeared. Since this is his arrogant refusal to even speak to workers but literally runs away from them and tries to make false claims to the police to stop protests, we informed all his neighbors about what he did and promised to return.


Janusz Granos Book Firm runs several shops in Warsaw and an online internet sale of books. Unfortunately it is cheating workers. First, they are not always given their contracts before they start and then when they get them, the conditions are changed and the contract is constructed in a wrong way. Evidence of working time is not kept and workers were not given proper pay slips showing the hours worker, evidence that insurance was paid or not, etc. A couple of workers were cheated so they called for a boycott of the firm. On December 9, a protest was held in front of the main shop in Warsaw. Two workers presented their demands, stating how much money they were owed: 2800 and 1050 zloties. After the protest, the boss paid 700 zloties to one worker, which is not near the amount owed. The ZSP will continue the protests after the national quarantine ends in the second half of January, when shops can open again.


ZSP Warsaw has opened a conflict with a preschool and educational center that has not paid a few workers. 3 workers are involved, including the school psychologist and speech therapist. They have been waiting for months for their salaries, plus payment for unused vacation time. They also had problems that they could not get any social benefits because the boss did not send the required form into the Social Security Office and they received an incorrect work certificate, which is a document they need for further employment.

At the end of July, the IWE Foundation, which ran the school, took the decision to wind up their activity. The boss and the chair of the Foundation had set up a commercial enterprise in March. They obviously had no intention of closing the school and it is still functioning regularly. Although the same people run the school as before, by using another name, they can pretend that IWE does not have any obligation towards its former employees. Despite the fact that IWE is in liquidation, 2 weeks ago there were job advertisements – for a psychologist and a speech therapist, posted under the name IWE.

The women had contacted the State Labor Inspectorate about the case, but they were told that nothing could be done, because their employer is in liquidation. This is despite the obvious fact that the employers just changed the name and legal form under which they operate.

No doubt they feel untouchable, using the legal loopholes that the state sanctions to help unscrupulous employers commit wage theft. However, we will show them that they are not, that such actions should never be tolerated.

ZSP will protest at the School. Last week we also visited the State Labor Inspectorate, among other reasons, about this situation. We pointed out how yet again, the state provides the legal means to encourage wage theft and that its inspectorates are often useless. The best tool for workers is organization, mutual aid and direct action.

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A week of action against unpaid wages will be held from October 12-18. 2020. The actions, which are organized by the International Workers' Association, will focus attention on this problem that workers around the globe face all too often.

The unions of the IWA have often been able to take successful action against various forms of wage theft. One of them is the ZSP. Hundreds of workers have been able to recover wages and other money they were entitled to through action with this union. On the occasion of the International Week of Action, we present the history of a few such cases which show different types of theft such as unpaid wages, underpaid wages, lack of overtime payments, lack of sick pay, vacation time or social security payments (to name the most common).

In presenting these actions, we have chosen ones that represent different types of problems and show some of the ways that the bosses cheat workers. Some of these cases lasted a long time and are well-known such as the campaigns in supermarkets such as Dino, PoloMarket or Marcpol. Others were resolved more quickly or happened a while ago and are not always known to a new generation of activists such as the wildcat strike in PKS Grodzisk Mazowiecki, the problems of subcontracted workers at JW Construction or the campaign at GreenWay restaurants.

During the week of action, we hope to focus attention on the various types of problems that workers often encounter and encourage them to join us and take action!

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The whole world is watching the situation in Belarus with concern. The uprising of Belarusian society against the authoritarian government is growing and is manifested in different ways. We can observe not only mass demonstrations, but also strikes that unite workers from different professions, expressing the anger of the local working class against tyranny. We hope that the strikes will turn into a general strike, which will lead to the overthrow of the dictator Lukashenko.

The Union of Syndicalists Poland would like to express its solidarity with the Belarusian working class, judging that the uprising against the government will allow workers to believe in their strength and can bring the workers' struggle to a new, bolder path. We strongly encourage workers to start the process of uniting into a grassroots, self-organized labor movement, independent of political parties and regular trade union leaders. A movement which as a result of mass strikes can take control of the workplaces and means of production. Only organized and systematic struggle of a society united in such unions can win this unequal struggle. Independent, grassroots unions will be an important and necessary step towards the liberation of Belarusian society. We hope that you can transform the political and economic system in accordance with a sense of social responsibility. We also hope you don't make the same mistakes like here in Poland, where the trade union which had a slogan of solidarity on their flags and followed politically naive leaders who exchanged the dictatorship of the Communist Party for the dictatorship of capitalist politics, power and business. Polish workers have felt the consequences of this mistake til this day.

For this reason, it is not enough to change one political power for another. It is necessary to rebuild society from the bottom up, laying the foundation for self-managed structures.


Since the start of the Coronavirus Pandemic, ZSP has been reacting to job and salary cuts both in particular workplaces and in general. The government reacted to the situation with a series of aid packages to support business and supposed also to support workers. However, the union pointed out from the beginning that the policies did not cover all workers and were grossly inadequate to the situation. One of the main problems in the government's policies relates to the fact that it has for the last two decades or more legitimized a dual system of employment where part of the workforce is considered a „worker” and given all the protection of the Labor Code but huge numbers of workers are fake independent contractors. When the government said it would offer help to these workers, the mechanism they put in place meant that in reality, most of them received nothing. We pointed this out and these criticisms resonated. After a couple of months of pressure, the Act called „the Shield” was amended to take this into account. Although we can count this as a victory, other parts of the amendment, as well as a new Act on Solidarity Payments were totally unacceptable.

The Act on Solidarity Payments highlight the problems of the constant discrimination of a large segment of workers in Poland. Not only do these workers have fewer rights and guarantees against immediate dismissal, but also now, they will not be entitled to relief under the new Act. The Act would offer up to 3 monthly payments of 1400 zloties (313 EUR) to people who lost their jobs – but only for those who had an employment contract. Even here, certain provisions of the Act guarantee that some of those people will also be excluded. However, during the Pandemic, people who were contractors were the ones hit especially hard as employers are able to fire them much more easily or not extend their contracts. Many of them have monthly contracts and those were the easiest to get rid of. However, the state did not include these people (which are more than 3 million workers) in the act. Many people were left with nothing.

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