More than 100,000 Poles protest government's proposed reforms
September 16, 2013
Protesters with a gilded statue of PM Tusk
More than 100,000 of Poles marched through Warsaw on Saturday, the last day of a series of protests organized by trade unions against government’s recent changes in labor and pension policy.
Led by the Solidarity trade union and the All-Poland Alliance of Trade Unions (OPZZ), workers from across Poland have come to the Polish capital to participate in the demonstrations, which began on Wednesday, against reforms proposed by Donald Tusk’s government which would place some private pension funds under state control, and lengthen the work week.
Unions are opposed to new legislation that gives employers more flexibility in determining the working hours of employees. Workers complain that their average monthly salaries of 3,700 zlotys before taxes are among Europe's lowest.
The protesters demanded a higher minimum wage, greater job security, healthcare guarantees and retirement benefits, as well as the reversal of the recent raise of the retirement age to 67 years from 60 years for women and 65 years for men.
"We want pensions at the age of 65 as before and not at the age of 67 as Tusk's reform would have it," said Marek Lewandowski, a spokesman for Solidarity. "We want better social policy and guarantees for employees."
Saturday saw one of the largest rallies in Poland in recent years. Many protesters were blowing trumpets, beating drums and waving union flags as they marched through the streets of Warsaw. Some carried banners calling for Prime Minister Donald Tusk to resign. They read "We are Coming to Get You'' and "Tusk's government must go".
“We want the departure of Donald Tusk. This is the only way to change social policy in Poland,” Lewandowski told AFP news agency.
Protesters followed a gilded statue of Tusk with one arm extended, mocking communist-era aesthetics. A funeral wreath laid at its foot read: "For Flexible Labor Policy."
Solidarity's alliance with the main opposition conservative Law and Justice (PiS) led by former PM Jaroslaw Kaczynski gave Saturday's protest a political edge.
As Poland's once robust economy has slowed to just 0.1% growth in the first quarter of this year the ruling centre-right coalition's popularity has plunged to its lowest level since Prime Minister Donald Tusk took office in 2007. Recent polls have placed PiS well ahead of Tusk's liberal Civic Platform (PO).
Also, after several defections from PO this year, the coalition government's parliamentary majority has been reduced to a single seat, which has raised the possibility of a minority government and early elections before the set date of 2015.
"We can no longer tolerate policies leading to misery and poverty," OPZZ union head Jan Guz said, calling the protest a "final alarm bell" before a possible general strike.
"The government gets its last warning today. If it draws no conclusions, we will block the whole country, all roads and highways," Guz said.
They have the support of a majority of Poles, according to a poll by MillwardBrown commissioned by a private broadcaster TVN. It said 59% of respondents were in favor of antigovernment rallies and 31% against.