Coal Mine Strike Spreads
WARSAW, Poland (AP) _ Workers at half the coal mines in a major mining region of Poland were striking Wednesday to demand that the government raise their pay and keep open unprofitable mines.
The strikes in Silesia followed a two-hour nationwide warning strike on Monday organized by the Solidarity trade union. By Wednesday, 42 mines employing more than 200,000 people were on strike.
The fall of Communism in 1989 ended subsidies and privileges for miners and forced the largely outdated mines to struggle to cope with the transition to a market economy.
The strikers sent a letter to Prime Minister Hanna Suchocka demanding immediate talks to save the mining industry. She is expected to meet within two days with Solidarity chairman Marian Krzaklewski.
Leaders of the two other miners’ trade unions, meanwhile, said they would join the strike. Transportation workers in Silesia also threatened to strike Thursday, Polish television reported, and there were scattered Solidarity protests at factories nationwide.
The striking miners are demanding pay increases, higher pensions, bailouts for indebted mines and abandonment of a government program to close unprofitable pits, which could cut up to 180,000 jobs.
Industry Ministry spokeswoman Grazyna Lewandowska said the government was surprised by the strike, since negotiations between the ministry and mining unions were in progress and legislation for a debt relief program had been submitted to parliament.
But Lewandowska said meeting the miners’ demands would lead to an unmanageable budget deficit in 1993. The deficit was set at no more than 5 percent during negotiations with the International Monetary Fund.
She suggested union negotiators had not fully informed the workers on the progress of the talks.
Waclaw Marszewski, leader of the strike committee, predicted the protest would be lengthy.
″Maybe when there are really no coal supplies, the mining industry will be appreciated,″ the PAP news agency quoted him saying.
Industry Minister Waclaw Niewiarowski cut short his visit to Austria and Switzerland. He warned that the strikes could cause shortages of coke and force some steel mills to extinguish furnaces.
It is the first labor unrest since summer, when workers at the state-owned FSM car plant staged a lengthy strike. Suchocka was applauded for standing firm against the pay demands, which she said would derail an austerity plan to control the national deficit.