The motto “there is no freedom without solidarity”, which has transcended Polish borders and its union struggles led by Solidarność (whose story began in the Gdańsk shipyards), still resonates in today’s thriving Poland, which does not forget the mining struggles against Communist regime. In full conflict with Brussels on its many fronts, from the judicial to climate change, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Moraviecki, accompanied by Piotr Duda, leader of the historic Polish union Solidarność, honored last Friday the 41st anniversary of the Jastrzebie Agreement, in the town Jastrzębie-Zdrój (in southern Poland), a prelude to the fall of communism.
In 1980, the Upper Silesian town was the scene of massive strikes in the mining sector that forced the communist government to improve the working conditions of miners with measures ranging from wage increases to weekends off. «If the mine had not gone on strike, if other plants had not gone on strike because of it, would Solidarność have arisen? I do not think so. Of course, we will never know, but it is the fact that one plant after another rose with similar postulates; This made them stronger, bigger and more powerful. This fact caused the whole of Poland to become ground for the Solidarity Uprising that the communist authorities could no longer extinguish,” Prime Minister Morawiecki said in his speech in front of the monument erected in honor of the protests.
From a small town of barely 5,000 inhabitants in the mid-20th century, dedicated to the spa since 1860, mining made Jastrzębie Zdrój grow almost from nothing. Right on the border with the Czech Republic, in three decades it became one of the cities (90,000 inhabitants) with the highest per capita income in the country.
Between the 60s and 70s, the construction of mines began, up to a total of five, and housing developments for displaced people from other regions attracted by the great working conditions. In the last decade, the unemployment rate in the town has fallen from 8.9% to 5.7%. Currently, more than 20,000 of the city’s inhabitants work in the mines
“Here more than one misses communism”
However, the legacy of the past hinders the economic transformation of the area, which sees no other horizon than that of coal. “Here more than one misses communism,” says the president of the municipality Anna Hetman. Not in vain, Hetman emphasizes, “in the communist era, miners had a lot of profits and even received apartments for settling here.” «The high salaries and job security of the sector are reducing people’s creativity and causing them not to be interested in starting their own business. Added to the dependence on the mining sector, the cultural and family model where the husband works and the wife works as a housewife is causing the depopulation of the region,” she adds.
Coking coal – used for steel production and which is the majority in the municipality – has been declared a strategic resource of the European Union, so the transition is expected to be slower than that of hard coal. Although the horizon is 2050, the town’s mayor intends to use the Just Transition Fund to diversify the local economy. However, the opening of new mines and the granting of new mining licenses by the Polish authorities would mean, as European sources explain to this newspaper, that the allocation reserved for the region from the brand new Just Transition Fund, with a global budget of 17.5 billion euros and a key element of the Green Deal for mining regions, does not reach Upper Silesia.
The city council is now seeking to rescue its stage as a spa town, a condition lost in 2007, to diversify the economy in the face of a potential decline in its mining. This town was among the seven with the highest mortality rate from contaminated air particles in Europe, according to a study by The Lancet.
Just Transition Fund
The city wants to support the miners who will be forced to change industries, new technology companies will be established in the area and the offer of tourist services associated with the hot springs will be significantly expanded. «The problem is the opening of new mines and it is impossible to block the concessions in the Ministry of Climate. This can exclude entire subregions from applying for funds. The Commission’s position is unequivocal: an open mine disqualifies the entire subregion,” they say from Jastrzebie-Zdroj.
Precisely this week also marked 100 days of illegal activity at the Turow mine, which under the direction of the state company PGG, with which this newspaper tried to contact without success, supplies lignite to the electricity plant of the area that in turn generates 5% of Poland’s electricity. More than 70% of the Polish electricity grid depends on Polish black gold. Located in the region or voivodeship of Lower Silesia, in southwestern Poland a few kilometers from Dresden and the Czech border, the Czech Republic alleges that the mine is draining its water supply.
No agreement on the Polish recovery plan
The mother of all battles, at least the economic one for Poland, are the funds for the pandemic recovery plans, which if finally approved, Warsaw could receive up to 23 billion euros in grants and 34 billion euros in loans. The European Commission, which had supported the projects presented by 18 member states, is still reluctant to give the green light to Poland’s recovery plan. The main obstacle: respect for the rule of law and above all for the principle of primacy that guarantees the superiority of European law over national law.