Violence erupted on the streets of Warsaw yesterday as police and protesting train and shipyard workers fought pitched battles outside the Palace of Culture and Science (photo: tvp info).
Five thousand employees from PKP (Polish National Railways) and several hundred shipyard workers from Gdansk, northern Poland, blocked the city centre around 18:00 CET Wednesday and protested against job cuts.
Protesters chanted demands, threw firecrackers at police lines and burned tires, causing putrid smoke to drift through the streets of Warsaw.
Shipyard workers were also equipped with a giant effigy depicting Prime Minister Donald Tusk.
When the protesters, taking advantage of international media attention gathered around Sala Kongresowa, the location of the European People’s Party congress meeting, attempted to cross security barricades, police intervened and sprayed the crowd with mace and fire extinguishers.
Three policemen and several dozen protesters were injured and needed medical attention.
Illegal protesting or police brutality?
Marcin Szyndler, spokesperson for the city police department, claims that the demonstration became unlawful when protesters ignored police requests to disband.
Several dozen workers from the Gdansk shipyard have sought official medical examinations citing injury following yesterday’s protests. Deputy head of the shipyard’s Solidarity workers union, Karol Guzikiewicz, stated that “workers are experiencing dizziness, nausea, vision problems, sore throats, some are vomiting blood and most have traces of skin irritation.”
Guzikiewicz highlighted the fact that, according to him, “It was not actually pepper spray but mustard gas that the police sprayed over the crowds thoughtlessly.”
The Solidarity member claims that police crossed the line in terms of crowd control procedures, maintaining that they resorted to provocation techniques.
Maria Pioro from the national Solidarity commission’s information bureau stated: “As a result of brutal police intervention, several dozen people were injured, one shipyard worker is still in the hospital in Plonsk [northern Poland].”
“Six unionists who were hospitalized in Nowy Dwor, Mazowieckie province at their own request have been released as were 13 others who were hospitalized in Warsaw. On location, under the Palace of Culture and Science, emergency workers treated 32 demonstrators,” reads an official communique from Solidarity headquarters.
A testimony from Janusz Sniadek, a union representative, condemned the police action, claiming that they used chemical substances against the protesters.
“We are demanding an immediate categorical explanation of yesterday’s events. That type of provocation can only lead to escalations in tensions and social conflict,” stated Sniadek.
Police spokesman Mariusz Sokolowski maintains that the action of the police and the substances they used were all in accordance of the law. He denied accusations that any gas other than mace (pepper spray) was used during the demonstration.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, Grzegorz Schetyna, has assembled a commission to investigate the conditions surrounding Wednesday’s protests in Warsaw.
“There were attempts to jump over the fence and the demonstrators acted aggressively. That is why police were forced to react,” stated Schetyna Thursday morning.
Schetyna added that the protesters were granted permission from the Warsaw city government for a peaceful demonstration.
“After several minutes, the contract was broken and completely unnecessary aggression broke out,” claimed the Deputy Prime Minister.
The workers were demonstration in the face of job cuts on the state railways, after management said that they plan to close thousands of kilometers of track, claiming unpredictability.
And anger has grown since the European Commission recently rejected restructurisation plans at Gdansk shipyard and demanded cuts in production capacity, which would mean large amounts of workers being made redundant. The Minister of the Treasury is set to negotiate a new restructuring plan for the Gdansk shipyard between the 11-15 May