During a workshop on solidarity economics at the WoGan Decriminalizing Resistance conference last weekend (November 12th-13th) I met Krzysztof Krol, a member of the Anarchist Federation of Poland who resides at the Rozbrat Collective in the Polish city of Poznan. Of the many participators in that particular workshop only the two non-U.S. presenters seemed to have practical solutions for working class people. While Americans talked of seed exchanges, alternative currencies, and green investment schemes Krol told of his groups foray into radical labor organizing and a presenter from Argentina's MST talked about a community center built by the community itself geared around food production and education.As the debate over the validity of alternative currencies roared on past the workshop's scheduled time I pulled the labor-minded Krzysztof aside to get a one-on-one interview.
Boston Indymedia: Could you describe what you are accomplishing with labor organizing in Poland?
Krzysztof Krol: I am from the Anarchist Federation of Poland (AF), this group started in 1989. In every big city we have sections, ours is in Poznan. It is a net of independent groups, autonomous, that exchange info and also coordinate actions together. Most of the time we have two all-Poland meetings a year and discuss our plans for the future. We started the Workers Initiative (WI) with friends from my section; this is a group of people from AF who are interested in workers topics and Anarcho-Syndicalism. One month ago WI started an official workers union in Poznan it is 150 workers in this union from three factories in two places. There are also members in other cities. I am not sure how many. These unions are made up of disabled people.
BI: In how many cities is the AF involved in Labor organization?
KK: 5 sections, but AF has sections in 20 towns and cities.
BI: How much of the anarchist ideology is coming through in the organizing itself? How is the Union structured?
KK: This idea of making a union started four years ago but at the start we hadn't any base, and no contact with any workers. Our idea was to first get some connections with workers and then after this maybe organize the union. Now, in May, these workers proposed the idea of making a union to us. They told us 'we don't want to be in any other union because they are not democratic and that is not enough for us. We don't want to have a hierarchy in our union. They asked us to organize an anarcho-syndicalist union.
Our first quick step was to legalize the union. We did this using documents from other unions with only a few changes. This made us an official union. In a few weeks we will be meeting to really organize the structure, to do this more downstairs without hierarchy. We will be basing this on Anarcho-Syndicalist ideas on the examples of CNT of Spain and other examples in labor history. We also see sometimes there are some bad things in old ideas, some that are 100 years old. So we will not be strict in adhering to these old models.
BI: One major part, following the historical goal of the CNT, would be having the final goal of the union organizing be the creation of a worker owned collective. Is that also the goal of your new organization?
KK: For us also, our longer vision is to use the union as a tool to organize a free community. For sure our vision is taking the factory under control of the workers. A second priority is organizing other things, other activities around the union. Cultural activity. In Poland workers culture doesn't exist. We had some worker culture after WWII but after this came communism and everything became official. After the end of communism in 1989 no one cared about the culture of workers. They proposed, just like the rest of the world, television and consumption.
So we organize some cultural activities with workers, an exhibition of photos, Football cups, some movie evenings with socially conscious movies, sometimes we go to theatres because our friends own theatres and they like to invite the workers for premieres.
BI: You were talking about workshops that you are doing in the workshop we were in, do these involve more workers than just those in your union? And did those come before the formation of the union?
KK: We have organized four conferences. The most recent was one week ago. People come from all over Poland, there are workers, delegations from other unions, members of anarchist groups and socialist groups and we also invite Anarcho-Syndicalist unions from other parts of Europe. Last conference we invited SAC from Sweden, CGT from Spain, and FAU from Germany. The conferences make new connections and give new points of view to the people who come. People also present the problems they have. We hold workshops on practical things, like how to organize a good protest, how to write some text to media, and other things.
BI: What was your first step in reaching out to the workers?
KK: First we had this group of people from AF. A few people were working, some people were unemployed, some were students. We needed to make some contact with workers. One friend proposed that we reach out to some workers from a big factory that were in this more radical union called Solidarity 80's, a big union in Poland. It is made up of people from the Solidarity Union who were fed up and split off to form Solidarity 80's.
We proposed to them some workshops. Our first proposal was "What you should do after they kick you out from work, after unemployment." They told us they didn't need this. So we took other steps, we printed flyers and gave these flyers to workers at the factory gates, 6am when they go to work in the morning.
When people from the solidarity 80's saw this flyer they thought this is some good group, but it was us, the same people from before! Really they didn't believe that we could do this thing.
BI: What were the flyers about?
KK: The flyers were about the economical situation and they layoffs that were going on.
KK: Yeah, there was something about the local situation in the factory and something about the global situation and how it was affecting Poland. "We must react, you must react, we must react together." It worked very well.
After this it was very fast. We started organizing a few demonstrations and thinking about strategy inside the factories. We started a paper inside the factory. The title of this was "Initiative 80's" to connect Solidarity 80's with Worker's Initiative. After this we started going to some factory strikes. There were a lot of strikes in this time. For instance, one group occupied the gates of one factory for 240 days. At another one at a shipyard in the North of Poland a few thousand people would take to the streets every day.
We went on the strikes during 2002 and 2003 and made some connections. These people come to our conferences. One fabric factory on strike kicked out the private management and started organizing a cooperative. We have very good relations with this factory in Central Poland. Our last conference was in this factory.
We also support people when they have cases in court. We give information on how to do their defense. We have an open phone for workers. People can call to us and ask about rules to workers law. There are very practical situations that come up in a place of work, you must now how to play with the boss because play with you he will. He won't explain to you how much is possible. If you are stronger he stops scaring you.
BI: What are the other unions there in Poland?
KK: The biggest union is Solidarity with 750,000 workers. The second biggest is the OPZZ with 720,000, a Communistic Union, more left wing than solidarity, there is the All-Polish Federation of workers unions with 300,000, and then there are other little unions including specialized worker unions, Solidarity 80's and now WI. In Poland 14% of people who work are in unions.
BI: Are all those authoritarian unions?
KK: Yes, this is the first Anarcho-Syndicalist union after WWII in Poland. Five or six years ago a group of people in Warsaw started up a section of the IWW but really it was a group of their friends and after a year or two it was still just a group of their friends.
Other unions are very corrupt and hierarchical. A lot of high-ranking members of Solidarity are in parliament, most of them also have connections with big business. Sometimes they are the owners of smaller businesses, for example if you are the boss of a big factory union, you may also own the little sister of the factory that fixes all the electricity or cleans the factory. This is normal in Poland.
Unions have a big influence on politics in our country but only tops of the unions, not unions in the meaning of a social movement.
BI: You said that you live in a squat in Poznan called Rozbrat. Can you describe it for people?
KK: It is a social center, people live in this place but also we have our office, we have a library, we have anarchist archive, a place to publish things, and this our place for the AF. I know the situation in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania and Poland. I haven't seen anything as big. This is the biggest and the oldest squat in Poland. It is ten years old. It is illegal, we pay for water and electricity but we don't pay rent.
BI: What do you think is the best way for American Anarchists to connect with what you are doing over there?
KK: Contact is good but this is normal and this is easy. It is not enough. My idea is to have some practical cooperation. For example in San Francisco I talked with AK press about publishing some stuff. Another example might be to translate Indymedia movies into Polish and show them there. In Western Europe other Anarcho-Syndicalist unions help Polish workers who come there to understand their rights. There are thousands of possibilities to cooperate. We must think about the future, to develop something, because now what we are doing is not enough.
BI: Some of the Anarchist groups in America often have a sort of 'security mentality'and seem to be scared of prosecution. They act as if the activism they are doing is illegal. What do you make of the difference between groups here and over there?
KK: Yes, I saw this a lot of times. It's because of the way our societies are scared, so are anarchists scared because they are part of the society. For sure there is some bigger influence of secret service in [the American] movement than in Poland. For me, our power is that we are open and everyone knows everything. I don't believe that radical people here [in America] really do anything illegal. They aren't killing people. But at Anarchist Black Cross from Jacksonville [Oregon] in every flier there are people with guns, and I don't know for what. For me my view of Anarchism is a social movement. Fights on the streets are OK, they are important for sure, but you must build some structure, not only fight on the streets all the time.
People here they often talk to me only about fights. I have been in a lot of fights here and there, big and little demonstrations. I know how it is and most of the time it is the same.
If you are in black and you destroy some windows, for me, this is not radicalism. The most radical thing is change of the people. Then hit the streets, and then break some windows if you need to.
BI: Yeah, there,,s some confusion about the means to an end I think, people might have the same vision of the end, but they can,t envision the same path. And then maybe they just get mad. And the press doesn,t help us either.
KK: In Poland we don't have really a big past of the movement. Really, most of the people don't know what is this Anarchism. They see some information on us and maybe it is some good information and they don't object that much. Maybe they don't like this name Anarchism. They know that Anarchists from Poznan help people from Chechen. We did a lot of protests against the war in Chechnya, and they liked this. Most of the people in Poland don't like Russia after the past. For example, occasionally driving down the street some drunk will yell "ahhh 'free kafkas!' Anarchistas! I must go next time on the demonstration!" Because they hate Russians you know? And they feel that anarchism is good work.
Action is spectacular. But the work with unions is not spectacular. You must go every day, sometimes very, very, very early in the morning. You must wake up and you must go and you must talk with these people all the time and they talk so many bullshits because they don't know everything. But you cannot talk bad you must try and talk to them, try to explain something. I also learn a lot from those people. But it's not easy and no one sees you doing this.
When you see these people in the morning and you try to collect some money because the next people might be fired with no work for two months and three kids at home, no one sees this. Because this is not action, and this is not spectacle. For me demonstrations are just like spectacle with the situationalists. This is spectacle, this is play, this is only play. It's a good symbol but if this is our target, to do spectacles, then I am out.
BI: That's a good note to end on. I can let you go eat lunch now.
KK: Thank you.