After 17 days the bus drivers in the South Polish city of Kielce have surprisingly won their strike. The sale of the communal bus company MPK planned by the city’s mayor is stopped and MPK is given to the workers instead. The strike had been preceded by months of confrontation. One day before the end of the strike, one of MPK’s operation yards had been brutally evicted by private security guards and then recaptured by the striking bus drivers on the next morning.

MPK is employing 630 people, 380 of them are drivers, one of these is a woman. The 160 busses are old and keep breaking down. For years, the company has been incurring losses, according to the workers not least because some years ago the city has divided up the company into the actual bus company (MPK) and a traffic planning authority (ZTM). ZTM is supposed to manage the public traffic "market" by organising tender procedures, issuing requirements and writing timetables. De facto it only controls the MPK and pushes it into debt with unfavourable conditions.

A collective agreement conflict has been going on for two years. The last wage increase was six years ago. Five years ago, SolidarnoϾ and the two smaller unions in the company agreed to lower wages by relinquishing bonusses and extra pay in order to "save the company". After 30 years of service, drivers earn about 1,600 Zl net, newly employed drivers earn less than 900 Zl net. Most workers are between 40 and 50 years old. According to drivers, few young people apply. Over the last few years, many have resigned and gone to England or Ireland or have become truck drivers. Now SolidarnoϾ is asking 500 Zl more for everyone.

Apart from wages, workers also demand improved working conditions: According to the drivers, ZTM’s timetables are unrealistic which means that on the one hand busses never are on time and on the other hand drivers have practically no breaks between tours. Drivers also complain that the bus which took drivers home after the last tour has been cancelled which means that some of those who can’t afford a private car have to make long walks home at night.

Last year the issue of privatisation has been added to the agenda. Before his re-election last year with 72 per cent of votes, Kielce’s autocratic mayor Lubawski had promised not to sell MPK, but after the election he put all his weight behind selling it to the French Veolia corporation (which also operates train and bus lines in Germany under the name of Connex). The unions were not against privatisation as such but demanded a "social package" with five years of job protection, high compensations for layoffs and wage increases. Veolia wanted to guarantee only job protection, and only for employees with unlimited contracts.

The conflict escalates when the mayor announces that the Veolia deal will go ahead.