Poland: Mysterious ‘Carrier Pigeon Flu’ keeps postal workers at home

Since the start of the month the epidemic, which workers believe has been caused by overwork due to poor working conditions, has spread to over 40 post offices throughout Poland. The flu has has a great impact on the health of affected workers, and shop floor activists have advised staff the length of the country to make sure they see their doctors, resulting in a wave of workers going on sick leave. In some cities as many as a third of all staff are out and in some smaller towns, nobody is working.

Over the last few months, people from various different professions — such as teachers — have “gotten sick” from similar causes. Such illnesses, while debilitating for companies, avoid falling foul of the very prohibitive laws [pdf] regarding legal strikes and and can offer a way to circumvent the unions, which often discourage any decisive action by the workers.

The health advisory was issued through a network of postal workers started by the Union of Syndicalists (ZSP). Workers drew up a list of 14 demands which were delivered by a representative of the union before the flu epidemic took hold. Workers demand, among other things, a raise of 1,000 zloties and the reinstatement of Rafal and Zbigniew, who were fired for their union activity. Other demands emerged from a series of national meetings, which were started to press for the workers concerns outside of mainstream unions (which tend to protect the interests of State-run enterprises over workers).

When the action started the Post Office attempted to criminalise a ZSP member for the third time. A large criminal case was filed and a report sent to the State Security Agency (ABW) implying that, among other things, calling for a strike is “criminal activity” and alleging that ZSP is trying to overthrow the government. Among the allegations made were the following:

In connection to the investigation on the ties between the ZSP and groups of Post Office workers, we are sending this report to the ABW so that they can check if their actions and the actions of workers at the Post Office which work with them will lead to the destabilization of the Post Office which is an entity which carries out strategic action to defend the safety of the country and public order and, as a consquence, if this won’t destablise the State.
 
We notify the security organs about our suspicion that ZSP has committed a crime by calling for a general strike which would put the Post Office, which carries out strategic activity to defend the Polish State, at risk of ceasing to function because of a nationwide paralysis caused by a general strike.

The charges may seem ridiculous, but can carry up to two year prison sentences and civil liabilities for the union’s activists is approved. None of this has deterred the union. So far the State has refused on several occasions to register ZSP’s presence at the Post Office on numerous ridiculous pretexts. The Post Office therefore pretends it does not exist, although it is clear that the workers remain determined to put forward their demands.

ZSP also continues to fight for the reinstatement of its member, Zbigniew T, from Wroclaw who was fired for his organising activities
after 36 years of work. In January, a court case against the Post Office took place and the local ZSP organised a solidarity picket. One postman from the union quit in solidarity with Zbyszek and others have declared they will do the same if the Post Office refuses to discuss their demands.


This article is adapted from an article on the IWA-AIT website.