Thousands of union members march noisily through Warsaw to demand labor security, higher pay

Thousands of Polish labor union members marched through Warsaw on Wednesday, sounding sirens and blowing whistles in a protest against government labor policy and pension system reform and to demand higher pay.

The noisy march held in the rain on Wednesday opened 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 of their demands, to the Parliament building, where they rallied and set a tire alight.

Some 100,000 marchers are expected on the final day, Saturday.

The unions demand that the government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk support Poland's industry, where workers are being laid off after the economy slowed down significantly last year. 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-time contracts without social security. They also want the reversal of a raise in the retirement age to 67 years from the previous 60 for women and 65 for men.

"We gathered here to protest against this inhuman government," OPZZ leader Jan Guz said before the Paliament 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 and its parliament majority has shrunk precariously.