A protester throws a smoke grenade towards the parliament building during a several thousand strong trade union protest in Warsaw, Poland, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Thousands of Polish labor union members marched through Warsaw in the rain Wednesday, sounding sirens, throwing smoke grenades and blowing whistles in a protest against government labor policy and pension system reform and to demand higher pay.
The march was the first of four days of protests planned in the city by Solidarity, the OPZZ union — the country's largest — and smaller labor organizations. City officials said 10,000 marched from various ministries, where they left lists with their demands, to parliament, where they rallied and set a tire alight.
Organizers said about 18,000 union members from across Poland took part, while they expect a total of 100,000 marchers on the final day, Saturday.
The unions demand that Prime Minister Donald Tusk's government support Poland's industry, where workers are being laid off after the economy slowed down to 1.9 percent of gross domestic product growth last year from 4.5 percent in 2011.
They want job security and contracts that guarantee health care and retirement benefits at a time when unemployment is at 13 percent and many companies offer short-term contracts without social security. They say that the 40-hour work week is among the longest in Europe, while average month wages of about 3,700 zlotys ($1,150) before tax are among Europe's lowest.
They also want the reversal of a recent raise in the retirement age to 67 years from the previous 60 years for women and 65 years for men.
"We gathered here to protest against this inhuman government," OPZZ leader Jan Guz said before the parliament building to loud cheering. "There will be no more support. We came to demand our rights as workers."
Tusk, democratic Poland's longest-serving premier, said the protest was intended to bring down his government. The six-year-old ruling coalition has been losing popularity to nationalist opposition Law and Justice party, and its parliament majority has shrunk precariously to 233 votes in the 460-member lower house.