Hunger strike in public transport company

In May 2007, four employees of the Municipal Transport Corporation of Wałbrzych, a limited liability company, initiated a hunger strike. The protesters wanted to express their dissatisfaction with the fact that the civic authorities have decided to allocate the most profitable bus line to private carriers. The conflict has been going on for several weeks and there is no resolution in sight.

Company background

The Municipal Transport Corporation of Wałbrzych (Miejskie Przedsiębiorstwo Komunikacyjne Sp. z o. o. w Wałbrzychu, MPK Wałbrzych) is a limited liability company which is 100% owned by the Commune of Wałbrzych, in southwestern Poland. The main remit of the company is to provide public transport services for the Wałbrzych area – a task which is being carried out by over 300 employees in the company. The majority of these employees are organised in three trade union organisations active within the corporation – the Independent and Self-Governing Trade Union Solidarity (Niezależny Samorządny Związek Zawodowy Solidarność, NSZZ Solidarność), the Independent and Self-Governing Trade Union Solidarity-80 (Niezależny Samorządny Związek Zawodowy Solidarność-80, NSZZ Solidarność-80) and the Trade Union of Municipal Transport Workers (Związek Zawodowy Pracowników Komunikacji Miejskiej, ZZPKM).

Protest action initiated

On 11 May 2007, four MPK workers who are members of NSZZ Solidarność launched a hunger strike, in protest against a decision taken by the municipal carrier to withdraw from one of the most profitable and in-demand bus lines. The extreme reaction taken by the trade union members stems from their belief that, as a result of the move, over 30 employees will be made redundant.

The peculiarity of this conflict is rooted in the problem of defining the exact position of the sides involved. Usually, in protest actions involving trade union members, the demands are put forward to the management of the company. However, in this case, the employees have not articulated any claims against the chairperson of the company. Rather, their criticisms have been directed at the Road and Transport Corporation in Wałbrzych (Zarząd Dróg i Komunikacji w Wałbrzychu, ZDiK). The latter organisation issues transport service licences, as well as monitoring contractors providing such services in the Commune of Wałbrzych. Also involved in the conflict are the representatives of the local municipal authorities. In interviews given to the local media, the Deputy Mayor of Wałbrzych, Mirosław Bartolik, has underlined the fact that the protesters are not justified in their action as no dismissals have been planned.

Support from water and sewage workers

Tensions escalated when employees of the Water Supply and Sewage System Service Corporation in Wałbrzych offered their support to the MPK employees. Apart from the symbolic gesture of solidarity, the water and sewage system employees used the opportunity to voice their own demands. The workers underlined the need to modernise the region’s water and sewage system, as well as implying that inefficient management practices had led to the ongoing losses being faced by the company.

Attempts to reach consensus

At the initiative of the Regional Board of the NSZZ Solidarity Lower Silesia (Zarząd Regionu NSZZ Solidarność Dolny Śląsk), the District (Voivodeship) Committee on Social Dialogue (Wojewódzka Komisja Dialogu Społecznego, WKDS) was also brought into the mediation efforts. The WKDS committee has given the administrative district of Lower Silesia the task of providing arbitration services in the dispute. Up until the beginning of June, two meetings between the WKDS plenipotentiary and the trade union members had taken place. However, neither of these meetings resulted in a resolution.

A further endeavour to reach consensus was made on 6 June, when representatives of the protesting trade union members were invited to a municipal council session. The union members repeated their criticisms of the municipal transport system’s management and, in return, listened to the arguments that had been made previously. However, once again, the meeting ended in deadlock.

Commentary

To conclude, the efforts made to reach consensus have, thus far, failed to convince the MPK workers to stop their hunger protest. It is hoped that the next round of negotiations will lead to more favourable results. Indeed, the prospects seem brighter as the post of vice-chair of MPK is to be filled by a person associated with NSZZ Solidarność, thus better representing the interests of the protesting workers. If the union members stop their hunger strike soon, it could be hypothesised that reasons for the protest were more politically charged and had nothing to do with securing jobs, but were rather focused on guaranteeing private profit. As it appears, the conflict should have ended within a few weeks, yet some of the union members still seem determined to continue the hunger protest.

Piotr Sula, Institute of Public Affairs (ISP)

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