In the summer 2015 I went to Zabrze - a city in Silesia region in Poland to conduct several interviews for the purpose of publication on gendered character of trade unions’ protests in Poland. The Silesia region is known as the centre of mining industry in the country - the industry that has been under pressure of closures for last several years. In 2014 and 2015 miners from different holdings organised various protests and strikes to protect their jobs and demand more active role in the processes of restructuring.
Miners used to be the champions of industrial era in the People’s Republic of Poland - they earned high wages, obtained many additional benefits and access to goods that were hardly accessible in ordinary stores. Nevertheless, their work was always dangerous and full of hazards - and almost always identified with masculinity (for some brilliant comments on that phenomenon see Malgorzata Flis ‘Women, Communism, and Industrialisation in Postwar Poland').
Since 1990s both the mines and miners were under pressure - the level of employment it was estimated as too high, the benefits too generous and the entitlement to earlier retirement was always questioned. Miners became known for their loud and spectacular demonstrations in the capital of the country, which quickly became a synonym for trade union militancy that was able to paralyse city centre. In the media discourse they were presented as destructors, whose political agenda is some kind of ‘culture of entitlement’ and were widely criticised. However, as a very well organised occupational group, with the highest level of unionisation, and strong support of their families and local communities, miners were always an attractive group of voters. Therefore their demonstrations were usually successful.
In last years the situation changed slightly, also in political terms - the miners are less and less seen as a coherent and influential group of voters, especially by the conservative-liberal Civic Platform that was in government in years 2007-2015, and the pressure on restructuring and closures of mines increased. Therefore in 2014 and 2015 miners organised several protests and strikes against those plans. The miners in Zabrze, who work in the last active mine in the city, tried to transcend the usual pattern of miners’ protests - they invited local communities to participate in pickets, as well as the more feminised group of administration employees, who usually did not participate in any form of protest. They managed to create a protest as a more inclusive and inviting space for all those who wanted to protect the mine and jobs for miners and local community.
Apart from interviewing participants and organizers of the protest, I took the opportunity to take some pictures of the mine and its workers.
Women heading to work at coal processing site.
Entry to men's bath - clothes and boots hang on hooks instead of lockers - this reminds of times when the level of employment was several times higher than nowadays and there was no space for lockers for all mineworkers.
Miners at the end of their shift, leaving the elevator that took them from the mining pit.
Woman heading to work.
Old and new buildings and machines.
Rescue team ready for duty.
Miners' magnetic card - they use it to register at the beginning and the end of the shift in the pit.
Member of the rescue team.
Rescue box, every miner takes one down the pit.
Entrance to the men's bath.
Old water tap.
Miners registering end of shift.
Corridor to the mine pit.
A woman, who registers start and end of the shift.
Old badges that miners used to take at the beginning of shift and return at the end. Different colours for different shifts.
Miners leaving the elevator.