Workers Initiative Poland

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woundedhobo
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Oct 22 2008 14:48
Workers Initiative Poland

Is there anything in English that goes over the history of Workers Initiative in Poland? I could not find anything on Wikipedia. It sounds like it is much more than propaganda.

syndicalist
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Joined: 15-04-06
Oct 22 2008 15:52

I'm sure laureakai will be on this.... in the meanwhile...

http://www.ozzip.pl/about-wi

http://www.ainfos.ca/04/jul/ainfos00261.html

akai
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Oct 22 2008 19:06

Thanks for volunteering me. Whatever I say will just cause problems. Of course it never stopped me.\smile I was one of the dozen or so at the founding meeting but also the first one to leave. A few comments relating to the history on their page:

There are plain untrue things in this history and some things which are only part of the story.

I was a member of WI (IP) in 2002. In 2002 there weren't 100 people in IP to go to a demo in Poznan because there weren't more than 20 people in IP. This unfortunately is one of the problematic issues with "the IP story": people are inventing it and exaggerating. There is a general tendency also for them to invite people to events and then present things as if everybody there was their member. But they have no shame about it because people like to believe this stuff and it attracts more people to create such myths.

Most members of IP were not interested in work with the bigots and political careerists from OKP who sold out the workers to politics and who even threw anarchists from Szczecin out of their meeting. At the European Meeting in Essen, a statement about this was made; our comrade translated it and you can see about OKP at the bottom here: http://www.ainfos.ca/02/aug/ainfos00194.html

As usual, one group of people from IP went into OKP but usually pretended to be representing IP as a whole.

Uniontex, which was presented usually as a "worker-run company" in reality was set up as a worker-management buyout, with a small portion of the original work force getting shares and employing cheap wage labour. (Non-shareholders.) The IP person there got fucked because they raised the share capital and the management bought more shares. "Worker-run" is quite a misleading term.

In 2004 the Warsaw IP group left after a number of scandals: money sent for Ozarow workers being held and not given to the workers, constant signing IP as organizers of events which only one section supported and, the last straw, registration of a trade union without a mandate and AGAINST the decision of the previous IP Congress. The news of the intention to register a union actually made it to other people and somebody was good enough to sneak out and send a copy of the statute of the intended union to IP members, but those who were in favour of registering this union without the discussion of the rest went ahead anyway, despite the suggestion to hold an extraordinary meeting. Since the person who tried to convince other people NOT TO TELL the other members anything about this until after the union was registered is the appointed leader of the union, this shows what those people understand about the concepts of anarchosyndicalism, mandates and accountability. Newer members of the union of course may not know about this and, if they hear it, are quickly told that it's all a lie. Most don't care and think stuff like that's not important. Some even argued with me on the internet that workers don't give a fuck about democracy.

Workers' Initiative never, as a whole, decided to join KPIORP. Like with OKP, there were people against it, but as long as the leader went into it, it was signed and presented that WI (IP) was in it. The truth is that sections of WI that wanted to be in it, were in it. KPIORP quickly came under the domination of Solidarity 80 and the Labour Party, whose leaders are the same people (and include former right-wing parliamentarians who were in an electoral coalition with third positionists from Fiore's international). Last year, our group, as well as at least half (if not more) of the sections of WI signed anti-election posters which criticized, amongst others, the Labour Party. We were asked by the leader of WI not to criticize the Labour Party publically. KPIORP has since been abandoned by all the other groups that were in it, with the possible exception of the local CWI group, whose activists have all decided on entrism in Solidarity 80 or the Labour Party, and WI. Despite the fact that there is much criticism of this creature in WI, they still decided to go along with it at the Congress. Of course later when we asked people why they voted for this, we saw that they didn't know about it. It seems that the understanding of the word "mandate" in most WI groups mean that they chose somebody to go to the meeting and that person makes the decision for the group on the spot. That's one thing we don't like, and it's something that a lot of people in WI don't like either but haven't been organized (or determined) enough to change.

The information about the Committee organizing a campaign for seasonal workers in 100 Polish cities and then is 50 more is a complete joke. There was an information booklet made and it was handed out in some cities. I saw how it looked in Warsaw and think I personally handed out more info to people travelling abroad than was done in the campaign - although maybe it was just particularly pathetic locally. The campaign did make good publications and a good website though. I don't want to be totally negative about it (especially since it was my idea:)) and something was done - it's just a complete exageration.

The Committee of course had the main advantage that the head of the August 80 union had loads of cash and had a tendency to walk around handing out money left and right from the union funds. (Oh the joys of being a leader) -So it did organize the useful demos mentioned in the history. This is true.

About the internal rules of WI, it may be true that many of the WI activists don't want trade union priveleges but the former leader of the union and head of its biggest and most important union in Ciegelski factory was not only formally the leader of the union, but also the paid representative of the workfoce on the management board of the company. But of course that's a complicated issue because that particular person surely did more to help workers in a concrete way that the rest of the union combined, so people look at it that way: if he was a helpful person, no question about his role on the management board. I questioned it once and was quickly mobbed and reminded by people is that what's important is helping. So, again, a bit of an exaggeration to say this radical stance is about the whole union. (Another fact is that some of the unions are too small to be entitled to these priveleges anyway.)

Of course this doesn't mean that some of the activists haven't tried to do good concrete work or engage in workplace organizing. Right now this is one of the few not-so-shitty unions in Poland and there are some good people, or people with good potential. The main problem is the astoundingly bad practices that have been rampant in not only this group, but in the left and anarchist movements in general. The democratic model is immature and at times a complete parody of anarchism, although some people claim that on the local level, in some of the local groups it looks different. In some of the local groups though it looks rather tragic, with only one person coordinating everything or with lots of dead souls.

I don't see this as an isolated problem of this group. Our union, KFP, which formally is much more democratic than WI also ran into serious problems in practice due to some passivity or people's expectations that a leader take charge. It's a challenge for the whole movement. So I still hope that, with some encouragement, some people will eventually turn the thing around. But complacency has been a big problem, as has ignorance (sorry for lack of a better word) and finally a large majority of non-anarchists, including authoritarian leftists. Worst has been that since leadership roles are sometimes played by those who have abused their authority the most, efforts to democraticize are blocked, etc. Most people being conformist, go along and try not to make waves. Others try to recruit members of ZSP to agitate inside IP; there was even a proposal (which we turned down) to give us voting rights inside IP. Most of us saw this as a rather pathetic attempt to draw us into the organization so that we could do the fighting for reform. When some of us were in IP others also wanted us to play that role, but seeing that it was just a way for others to avoid doing the unpleasant work themselves, we didn't get involved in that game. Currently there are a few members of ZSP in WI who take the occassional beating and hopefully play some (positive?) role.

ZSP was negotiating with IP about some common worker defense cooperation but it was a dead end. IP delegated two people to negotiate - but each had a completely different opinion. The leader of the union showed up by himself for negotiations and claimed that the other person was just expressing his personal opinion, although he had been delegated. We said that the issue in question should be decided by the membership of IP; a referendum would have been logical to support the view of the one person or the other and to present it as the IP position. (The particular issue was cooperation with political parties. At the time, or just before that, one of the IP members in Warsaw was running for parliament as the head of the list from the Self-Defense Party, which was a member of the government coalition. So it was very relevant for us, at least locally in Warsaw.) Unfortunately, WI is not so advanced when it comes to such issues and no referendum was held. So we decided that our group will cooperate on concrete things, such as defense of repressed workers, with local groups as we see mutually fit and try to avoid the executive decisions of the leadership.

Right now some WI groups are organizing interesting discussions. We are in touch with the fired postman from Gdansk whose case is in court and we organized and participating in some solidarity actions for him (although his demands were controversial for some of us - still he was fired illegally for his activity). We are in touch with a couple of other local groups and maybe will make a joint meeting with one local group early next year. We also are talking to people individually about ideas. Anyway, definitely, despite these very grim comments I made about serious problems which occurred there, there are some people trying to self-organize in workplaces, so we have to encourage that type of work, which is very rare, and hope people will improve the problematic areas. If not, the whole thing could go to hell.

Hope this wasn't too confusing. There's more, but that would surely get people lost.

woundedhobo
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Oct 23 2008 00:32

Jesus, I guess this gets back to the point that a collective is only as solid as its members. This problem happens everywhere. Anarchists that are in the habit of barking orders every other sentence are really annoying...
I guess all these events give you opportunity to have much-needed discussions about what is fucked up. I have heard that in the Soviet Union there was not much opportunity for self organization. Everything was directed from above So just being in a nonstate organization might be a totally new experience for some people.

akai
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Oct 23 2008 11:39

Well, I used to live in Moscow, could say a lof about psychology of people there, but in some ways people are less passive than in Poland, in some way more and in many ways it's just differemt. It's really quite complicated,

The biggest local problem is that the discussion doesn't always happen in an open way. Obviously, as I hope I made clear, there is a lot of potential to do something good and there have been good actions - from the point of view of protesting some injustice. The much deeper problem is good organization. It is literally tragic. The story of the fall of the Anarchist Federation is just stupid and sad. But some people don't want these discussions to happen. Others, and this is even sadder, are just not serious enough to sit down and concrentrate long enough to work it through. Others have their own personal ambitions and even intrigues. There are, in additional, legitimate points of disagreement: whether to work with politicians, tactical questions (reformism), the use of legal means, relations with the right, relations with the left, etc. etc.

One of the biggest issues has been the concept of internal democracy. Ironically, some of the people who bark the most about "participatory democracy" have the worst politics on this point in reality.

Some of these issues reflect a permanent disagreement, and this has spread into more than one organization. The Anarchist Federation went completely to crap in the last two years as people pushed for less democratic means as a way to compensate for the irresponsibility of many of the members. This resulted in first refusing to let sections not present at Congresses send a mandate, (disenfranchisement) refusing to set a quorom and then appointing people for jobs but refusing to discuss mechanisms for transparency of their work and refusing to make these jobs subject to rotation. At the last Congress, totally incidental people, without any mandate from any group, "voted", as individuals to kick out member groups and "voted" to go to individual membership.... without even changing the rules or clarifying the proposal how it was now possible to have both groups and individual members with each having one vote. Later on, two groups changed their mind about that - but the only thing one can say is COMPLEtE CHAOS.

I would say that by comparison WI has a better structure.... except the people behind this idiocy are at the same time members of WI. So there is complete chaos going on in some people's minds.

People need to calmly figure it out and develop cooperation and responsbility. It's very important that good models are developed. But actually, what we found is that when you sign up too many people who aren't really ready for this yet, you have a real problem with staying democratic. I mean, you aim to do it, but then you have to accept that maybe people make whacky decisions. Right now I even feel myself sometimes telling people what to do and the situation is not conducive to eliminating authority.

woundedhobo
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Oct 23 2008 22:36

yeah, it sounds like W. I. had very little affinity beyond liking the word anarchosyndicalism. Hopefully the groups that abandoned it, did so for similar reasons and you guys can form something new. Is the website you mentioned that posted the feminist propaganda a project of one individual or KFP? I'm still amazed that an anarchist website gets lots of traffic from socially conservative union militants. And I'm curious, do you still have a link to that controversial billboard?

Also, I remember reading your reports about Moscow in the IW around 1996 or 1997. You move around a lot.

akai
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Oct 24 2008 07:58

Originally WI did not want to call itself anarchosyndicalist because they wanted to get out of the ghetto and attract other people. After some people seriously criticized them for not being anarchosyndicalist, they started to use the word. As far as I know, anarchosyndicalists are a minority of people in it, but they consider it an anarchosyndicalist union.

Not very many people abandoned it because, for them, it is successful. Some people joined it, it has a good webpage and publication and one or two strong groups, so using that criteria, it's OK for them.

Most of the people who left are in ZSP now. KFP is a union (set up by some workers and some people from ZSP) in which some (but not all) ZSP people are active. This has depended if people were able to set up in the locale. Right now one group of anarchists not from ZSP are setting up a branch of KFP, so it turned out that some people need a union, but perhaps don't like ZSP's reputation as being too "intellectual". (It's rather funny, but that's how people see it.)

I know it's a bit off topic, but about the billboard: You can see it here. It's nothing extraordinary, just a comment on the roles of women as mother and wife more than human being, (This is rather true in Poland.) http://cia.bzzz.net/billboardy_antyseksistowskie_w_warszawie It was just a short note there.

That website was started by a small group of people who later were founders of ZSP. It's collectively run. There are about a dozen active members, one or two non-active and seven of them are from ZSP, three being also from KFP. There are two from WI, one who is WI/ZSP, one not. So yes, it has a ZSP majority and we try to print things that reflect our views, but it's widely used by any anarchists who want, just as long as it's in line with our policy. Ie, we banned libertarians who had for years in the past dominated anarchist publications in Poland with their crap and nationalists, who unfortunately still appear in anarchist publications. That's been "controversial" for some who see us as evil censors, so those people gather around Indymedia instead.

The website in general gets a lot of traffic. Knowing the size of the anarchist movement, even if everybody (including non-active people) was reading it, still only around 20% would be anarchists. If there is anything "special" on the site (like a live feed or something especially interesting or something which is mentioned or reprinted in the mainstream media), the traffic can increase 200-300%, which means lots of "normal" people. So it works this way that you get some "normal" person and if any anarchist has any conservatice tendency, they are speaking as if being the voice of the people. But usually it is done in a more pernicious way. So the xexist crazies we didn't want to print went to Indymedia and published. They try to justify their views with something more political, which some people can see as legitimate. They criticize the mainstream feminists because there are many capitalists amongst them. This is of course a legitimate criticism. But then they say that feminists (in general) don't give a shit about class war, only the war of sexes (still bordering on legitimate), and they see everything as a problem of men, and they make everything up and exaggerate things because they must have had personal failures with men and they hate men and you can't have a class war if people hate men and there is no discrimination in Poland and hasn't been for 90 years and it's all "imagined"........ etc. etc. It's moves from something rather legitimate into near misogyny. So it's very complicated but those who are more conservative are very comfortable with this and feel enpowered to hang on to those views. There are also those who say that such issues, outside of economics, are a person's personal business, so by constantly saying that all of these issues are not important, the socially conservative can fit in. It's a minority but in some places, outside of the bigger cities, there seem to be more of them. In Warsaw it's uncommon, only maybe 2-3 of them.

PS - If you were me you also wouldn't have wanted to stay in Russia after Putin took over and the nationalists and fascists went crazy.

woundedhobo
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Oct 24 2008 14:49

I remember in the late 1990s you were trying to convince a good friend on the alternative Eastern European listserv that class consciousness is important to the anarchist movement, so it sounds like a lot has changed in Poland.

akai
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Oct 24 2008 16:09

Yes.

In the 90s, the anarchist movement had a strong libertarian capitalist movement in it. Unfortunately, these people had a strong influence because they were very active in several anarchist publications. And not only them, but the odd nationalist or third positionist could be found. To this day there is at least one anarchist publication that refuses to stop publishing this kind of stuff - something like this is in just about every issue.

The dominant idea in the anarchist movement, even now, is to be "open". This was partly what the discussion was like in the 90s - the one you mentioned - when people from all over the world were trying to convince one or two people from the Anarchist Federation that they should get rid of the libertarians.

The problem was solved in that the libertarians left - but it didn't exactly go away. When there were no libertarians anymore, there were attempts to make a new platform for the Federation. After a long time working on it, delegates from 7-8 sections produced one but it was blocked by 3 sections. Unfortunately, the most adamant blockers were from WI. I still have the wonderful comments from Poznan about how the new platform should include ideas from Hakim Bey, Murray Bookchin, Noam Chomsky and Edward Abramowsky. There was this very stubborn tendency that we "shouldn't alienate" libertarians and so on - we should be more open to different ideas. So the ideal works out for some people to be something like TAZes, each run by a Participatory Democracy.

(No, I'm not joking. I think Czech and Slovak comrades are seeing this bullshit spreading now where they are.)

Now you have different tendencies in the movement. You still have the right-wingers, but they are rather marginalized. Then you have those who are leftists and tend towards cooperation with the authoritarian left. And leftists who don't. Then there are people who might have good enough politics themselves, but want to be friends with everybody. Then there are populists, who just like anything as long as it involves "the people", The cooperate with the right, left, whatever - just as long as it's on "concrete things". Then there are the liberals and the participatory democracy freaks.

Class consciousness became a lot more important. This is a positive development in my opinion. Now the challenge is to avoid stupid populism.

I put up a thread also on conservatism in the radical labour movement. In Poland at least, populism is still a problem and the right-wing is starting up some national syndicalist shit. (I am not joking. Those folks are spamming us on the internet. They are also active on the nationalist websites, where they have red and black flag avatars.) I know this red-brown stuff from Russia. I wonder how it looks in other countries.

woundedhobo
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Oct 25 2008 01:06

I guess people are lonely so they want to hang out even if they don't have anything in common. In my area the only leftists are in the Socialist Party-the group that Eugene Debs founded, so they are my closest neighbors on the political spectrum. Maybe I can get them to picket Starbucks if there is another day of global action against that company.

Here in the USA it's safe to say that right-wingers and left-wingers do not hang out, unless its a (really uncomfortable) family gathering.

mk
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Oct 27 2008 11:03

In my city there is NOBODY from anarchists, only activist of atheist party that likes Jaruzelski. It's personal problem for activism. I can only read internet, try to do small things in concrete situations. It's reasonable to cooperate with the closest to your politics if it's no tragedy and doesn't end with making only shit. Total shit for me was big left politician in Workers Initiative, who wrote anti-anarchist text in bulletin and make the big compromise. He decided on political cooperation with bad party, total shit, went to elections like candidate and leader from WI day before election went with him and past neonazi on the conference. It went past borders.

Socialist party in USA seems better than Poland. They never tasted the power.