I am writing this 1 May greeting from a holiday. Just like millions of Polish working people, I am benefitting from the fact that both 1 and 3 May are state holidays, and caught this perfect occasion to get a couple of days away from work. A moment of rest that we undoubtedly deserve. We do work hard, and the pay rises we got over the last decade do not go hand in hand with the general growth of productivity.
Most recently, in fact, our purchasing power has decreased due to inflation and rising prices. The very beginning of that inflation was linked to very generous support that the Polish state distributed among the business entities not to let them fall during the pandemic. At that time, saving businesses was supposed to save the workplaces. Those workers whose workplaces disappeared nevertheless, got nothing from the state. One more proof that the working world is not considered a partner by the government of Poland, no matter how social it might appear, compared to its neoliberal precedessors. But this is not only a Polish phenomenon. Everywhere in the Central Europe and the Balkans business organizations can succesfully lobby for their interest, and trade unions remain in disarray or desperately try to make their voice heard.
I am spending this short holiday abroad, and I felt unexpectedly happy to hear Polish language quite often here, in a top popular tourist city in the south of Europe. I cannot blame the people that they prefer to have a family trip to breathtakingly beautiful Greece than to march in a 1 May demonstration, no matter how right are the demands formulated there. I am happy for everyone who has a good resting time on these days off. There were times in post-Socialist Poland when people might have not attended the 1 May events massively, but when they did vote for the social-democrats. The social-democrats won a majority greater than any right-wing alliance ever could. It is just painful to recall what they did with this support and trust. Just like it is painful to see ‘social-democrats’ in other Central European countries turning into ‘colourful liberals’ at best, or to watch the Bulgarian Socialisty Party’s evolution to be the defender of traditional gender models.
In this context, I do not feel entitled to tell anyone in my region off for not willing to join left-wing events on this day. We, the working people, have suggested often enough that we want pro-social parties. Those were the parties who refused to represent us, and not us who stopped to vote out of laziness or ‘lack of political education’.
Yet, no one has invented any other way to make the rulers of the world take our interest into account than to unite and articulate the working people’s will through mass organizations. We cannot hope that enlightened leaders would realise one day that those who build the states’ economies must be secured with adequate wages, affordable housing and public services of quality. Looking back at history, including the most recent one, we would rather see upper classes securing their own wealth and privileges, and the governments assuring that no one makes them share the wealth with those in need.
During the pandemic, saving businesses was a priority over the needs of underfinanced public healthcare. Here in Greece, if only you walk away from archeological sites, you will be astonished at the level of inequalities between upper and middle class areas and those where the working class and the migrants dwell. As we know, inequalities rose everywhere in the world and the accumulation of goods in the hands of a tiny elite is still happening.
If we don’t speak up and demand this to end, this will not end. As simple as that.
What the Marxist classics called ‘class war’ became even more fierce between this 1 May and the previous Labour Day. Two countries of ‘advanced capitalism’ and ‘mature democracy’, France and Great Britain, saw mass mobilisations and strike action that involved hundreds of thousands. An action that was supported by millions of other workers not involved directly. In Brazil, workers voted for their left-wing candidate, blocking the reelection of the one supported by wealthy landowners. In most of the world, as the ITUC 2022 report proved, labour union and working class leaders are persecuted, put into prison or killed. Why? Because they represent a change which is based on solidarity. A change that the powerful don’t want to see.
In both France and Great Britain the historic workers’ mobilizations have not been victorious. By forcing the pension reform through the parliament, Emmanuel Macron became a textbook example of authoritarianism no worse than the Polish government, which receives so much criticism from Brussels. The lesson from France (and from Britain as well) is that even repeated million-strong demonstrations, if they last one day, may be not enough to make an anti-worker regime step back.
History teaches us that most of workers’ rights were won in a battle or ‘granted’ when a workers’ movement was strong enough to make the ruling class afraid. The lessons of past general strikes and different forms of revolt are here to be studied – and, when needed, reapplied.
And, having seen sparks of this workers’ determination during strikes and protest I covered as a journalist, I still claim that we would be able to do that one day. Workers’ movements are not to be produced by theoretical writing, nor called upon to appear on the spot. They grow out of people’s discontent with their own dynamic and reappear even when the ruling class claimed them to be dead.
After this holidays, my struggle continues too.
Cover photo: one of the many posters around Athens that call to take part in 1 May events. Like in Central Europe, there is no united event, but separate gatherings of SYRIZA party, trade unions and smaller radical left groups.
Cross-Border Talks team wishes all the hard working people good rest, well-paid jobs, respect at work, and everything else which is important to have a healthy and good life. 1 May – a feast of us all!