Katowice is internet hosting the COP24 local weather convention, however the coal mines of the Silesia capital are nonetheless the stronghold of Poland’s vitality safety. Assured employment, early retirement and household custom appeal to younger individuals who plan on spending their lives right here, regardless of the sector’s decline.

Sylwia Kwak is used to waking up early. As we speak, as she has each Friday since September, Sylwia goes to the Wujek coal mine in Katowice. The digital clock, a relic of the ’80s, reads 6:00 am. On the entrance desk, which additionally options furnishings straight out of the communist years, 23-year-old Sylwia meets her seven co-workers from the primary and second years of the grasp’s programme on the Silesian College of Expertise.

A half-and-half lady/boy combine, these college students take courses at (and are paid by) the corporate Polska Grupa Górnicza. In alternate, they have to work for the corporate for at least three years after finishing their levels. The programme contains maths, utilized geology, underground operations, sociology, macroeconomics, and so forth. The scholars hope to acquire govt positions within the mining trade, which employs practically 170,00zero individuals in Poland, most of them in Silesia.

Poland remains to be the mining large of the European Union, however right here, like elsewhere, the occupation is in an inexorable decline. There have been twice as many miners within the nation again in 1996, earlier than the restructuring and closures started. The privately held Polska Grupa Górnicza is the primary producer of black coal within the EU. Based after the chapter of Kompania Węglow – primarily held on the time by the state treasury – it operates eight of the 30 lively mines in Poland.

Within the depths

As we speak Sylwia, her lengthy blond hair tied again in a ponytail, follows the time-honoured rituals of the mine as soon as once more. After taking a token, she goes to the dressing room. As soon as there, she slips into the anticipated uniform: pants, shirt, jacket, belt, socks, sneakers, shoulder bag and helmet. Within the hanging room she receives a headlamp and an oxygen tank earlier than heading to the elevator. Surrounded by illustrated indicators depicting numerous underground risks, she and her colleagues climb right into a wobbly metallic cage. The descent begins.

It’s an examination interval, and each Marcin, the technician, and Piotr Buffi, director of the coaching programme, attempt to maintain the ambiance relaxed. On the finish of the experience, the apprentice miners exit 370 metres beneath the floor on the “pole szoleniowe,” a real analysis space, shielded from firedamp explosions. It’s because of Buffi that this area exists. The 46-year-old instructor is among the faculty’s founders. That is the one faculty in Poland to be positioned inside a working mine. “The children” will be taught the alpha and omega of mining in 21 periods, although they are going to most likely by no means work within the mines themselves.

Sylwia pushes a wagon with the assistance of her fellow feminine college students, whereas their male colleagues act as switchmen. “That is what a rescue wagon appears like,” says Buffi. “Bear in mind, rescuers should look out for their very own security! In your skilled life, you’re going to be chargeable for the individuals working contained in the mine. That you must actually know the ropes; every of you wants to have the ability to do your work right here safely.”

“We be taught quite a bit higher down right here! That is the place we realise that we don’t know something!” explains Sylwia enthusiastically, her rosy cheeks now coated in a layer of black mud.

“I selected mining in order that I can retire after 25 years,” says her colleague Tomasz Kotyrba, taking out his snack. “Positive, it’s dangerous work,” the younger Silesian provides, “however you don’t take into consideration that after you’re doing it.”

After a brief break, the supervisor continues asking questions. “How do you employ a methane detector?” By means of a solution, he raises the mechanism on the finish of his stick till it’s 10 centimetres from the ceiling. Then the group heads for the exit, again up into the blinding mild. The scholars return residence. Most of them stay with their mother and father, a number of dozen kilometres away within the huge city coronary heart of Silesia, residence to over 2 million individuals.

Miners, Hawaii and Fidel Castro

Sylwia takes the bus and the tram to get again to her household’s residence in Mysłowice, the city subsequent to Katowice. A no man’s land and sombre brick miners’ cottages roll by outdoors the home windows, with the mine within the background. Mysłowice is just a shadow of town it was again in 1972 when it was visited by Fidel Castro. At the moment, miners had been seen as very important components of the Polish Individuals’s Republic, and their achievements had been praised each by mine administrators and the bigger inhabitants.

That was earlier than they started their resistance motion within the 1980s and had been subjected to “pacifications,” just like the one at Wujek in 1981 the place eight miners died when the military and police forcibly ended a mass strike. In these days, miners got here from each nook of the nation, particularly the provinces ceded to the united states after World Battle II. They had been working to reconstruct your entire nation, and on the similar time repopulating the previous Prussian Silesia. As we speak, miners are seen by the remainder of Poland because the final survivors of a bankrupt sector, benefiting from extravagant social privileges.

Sylwia doesn’t see it that method. To make ends meet she moonlights as a waitress within the city sq., with its crumbling facades, at one of many uncommon cafés. “I’ve taken every kind of strange jobs. I’ve raised cash in Katowice and labored in Krakow,” she says with a smile. “However this can be a lot nearer to residence!” Her grandfather labored within the mines in Wesoła, however Sylwia began working in coal by probability. “At first I wished to be a linguist. Then I found geology. In the long run, I used to be accepted by the varsity of mining.” She’s actually not into computer systems: Sylwia desires of constructing “kombajn”, the machines used to extract coal. “I’m the form of one that likes motion and attending to the underside of issues.” It doesn’t hassle her that she’s the one lady in her class. “Mining is as a lot for ladies as it’s for males. The one limitation is when the work will get too bodily,” she says, a cup in her hand.

For Sylwia, like lots of her fellow college students, careers in mining are nonetheless interesting as a result of they supply assured employment not removed from residence. “I can’t see myself residing distant from the individuals I care about. My dream is to steer a easy life, with no enemies. I’d wish to go to Hawaii although, simply as soon as!” she provides. Regionally, coal is seen as an plentiful useful resource; it will be a pity to not benefit from it. “Poland doesn’t have many hydraulic assets and we don’t have a lot wind. No one actually desires nuclear vitality. So we don’t have plenty of different choices!” she says.

However in Poland, the place the conservative authorities is much from making the environment a precedence, the query of the environmental dangers related to coal does come up. In accordance with the activists in Katowicki Alarm Smogowy, a residents’ group working to boost consciousness of the phenomenon, simply residing in Katowice is equal to passively smoking 2,500 cigarettes per 12 months.

In Silesia, Poland’s black gold isn’t seen because the reason for smog, the atmospheric air pollution the area experiences throughout winter months. As an alternative, individuals desire to put the blame on inefficient combustion within the quite a few houses nonetheless heated with outdated coal-burning stoves, relics of the communist days. This perception can also be held by lecturers, for instance Pawel Sikora, professor of geodesy on the Silesian College of Expertise in Gliwice. “Sure, Poland exceeds European limits for effective particles [the nation was even found guilty by the European Commission this past winter], however the issue primarily exists in areas the place the air isn’t refreshed. Coal-powered vitality crops have filters. What’s extra, there is no such thing as a proof that coal impacts international warming. The press tends to symbolize the mining world in a unfavourable mild,” he provides. It’s essential so as to add right here that Poland has skilled seven lethal accidents in its mines because the 12 months 2000, with a complete of 87 victims. The latest was in Could of 2018.

As the federal government continues to subsidise the struggling mining sector, it’s confronted with an inconceivable dilemma: how can unprofitable Polish mines be closed with out threatening the nation’s vitality safety? 80% of Poland’s vitality comes from coal. It’s a useful resource that’s nonetheless offered as very important within the official discourse. “Now we have to spend money on mining and in its machines, its colleges and its analysis, to maintain operations going. Now we have a minimum of 20 years value of coal reserves,” states Buffi. Paradoxically, this mining skilled who spent seven years working underground and continues to share his boundless ardour together with his college students, hopes his two kids received’t go into mining.

“It’s extraordinarily troublesome work. Miners barely earn 2,00zero zlotys per thirty days [the equivalent of 500 euros]. They should work the mines on Saturdays and Sundays to verify they earn sufficient. In my father’s day, there have been nonetheless social benefits, like 14th month pay, summer season camp for the kids, and even retailers that had been only for miners. As we speak there’s nothing left however the “Barbuka” [a traditional mining bonus, given out on Saint Barbara’s Day] and the early retirement.”

The regional prepare that goes from Katowice to Gliwice in 30 minutes reveals indicators of EU funding. Model new, it transports college students and employees to the guts of the Silesian metropolis. It passes mine shafts and brick chimneys taken over by nature. Within the college residence in Gliwice, pupil miners from the College of Expertise share two-person rooms and four-person kitchens. In Adrian Grzesiok’s room the pc takes delight of place, proper subsequent to his barely-unpacked suitcase. “I used to be at my mother and father’ in Bojszowy over the weekend,” explains the fourth-year mining pupil.

Adrian selected mining “and not using a second thought.” His household lives 5 kilometres from the mine, and at that proximity nobody escapes, not even his brother. Adrian plans to maneuver again as quickly as he’s completed his research. “I’ll transfer into the primary flooring of my mother and father’ home.” He isn’t anxious about his future. “It’s going to rely on selections made on the highest ranges. However they will’t shut all of the mines. Apart from, technological developments are making it attainable to extract coal that was too costly earlier than,” he says.

Nothing in regards to the look of this younger man, together with his blue-dyed hair and pierced ear, suggests a deep attachment to custom. However mining is in his blood. “Silesians are deeply related to household and custom. Now we have our personal dishes, like rolada [beef roulade with pickles], and our personal dialect. My grandparents spoke it, however they handed away earlier than I might be taught it. I additionally go to mass, due to my beliefs and since it’s custom.” Adrian realises that pay circumstances for engineers are removed from fascinating, however he appreciates the free coal for heating and different fringe advantages. As for the hazards of mining, he can’t ignore them fully, particularly since his mother and father and grandparents undergo from lung illness.

Łukasz Wojcik nearly couldn’t return to work. Wojcik, a 30-year-old electrician, lives within the employees’ backyard metropolis of Nikiszowiec. With its tidy brick facades and tree-filled areas, it’s one of many prettiest elements of Katowice: a contemporary metropolis, with a freeway working by it. Nikiszowiec was constructed earlier than World Battle I, when this a part of Silesia was nonetheless German, and has supplied housing for generations of employees. Łukasz studied on the technical highschool and now works in Wierczorek, 900 metres beneath sea degree. On the weekend he will get collectively together with his colleague Robert, who’s already a father. “Everybody is aware of one another right here,” says Robert, sitting his daughter down within the sandbox. “It’s just a little like on the mine: solidarity reigns.”

Łukasz was the sufferer of an underground accident. However he went again, each as a result of he’s cussed and since it was inevitable. “I’m an electrician on the mine. What else would I do?”

Translated from the anglais, français, allemand, espagnol, italien, catalan, polonais by Arwen Dewey

Factual or translation error? Tell us.



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