During the first decade following the collapse of ‘communism’ in Poland, politics was divided primarily along historical lines. Therefore the major political parties and coalitions were built out of organisations that were either connected to the previous governing party or opposition movement. Although historical issues continue to play an important role in Polish politics, they have ceased to be the defining issue of political allegiance.
One area however where the historical division has remained dominant is the trade union movement. The two major trade union federations are the Solidarność trade union (the successor of the independent trade union set up in the 1980s) and the All-Poland Alliance of Trade Unions (OPZZ) (that was created by the authorities in the 1980s as an alternative to Solidarność).
Solidarność and the OPZZ have remained rivals and have rarely coordinated their activities. This has ensured that the trade unions have been divided at a national level. This has hindered their ability to defend their members’ interests, particularly in a situation where trade union membership has been in a steady decline.
However, yesterday Solidarność, the OPZZ and the the third national trade union confederation Forum held a joint news conference for the first time. They have also announced that they will be coordinating a series of joint actions and protests.
Immediately they have revealed that they are suspending their participation in the Trilateral Commission that includes representatives from the government, employers and trade unions. They have done this in protest against the failure of the government to consult with them on a number of issues. The leader of the Solidarity trade union, Piotr Duda, stated that the trade unions would discuss now with the government only through force and that this step was the first in a number of actions to oppose the government.
The leader of the OPZZ, Jan Guz noted how there are more than 2 million unemployed in Poland, another more than 2 million who have been forced to emigrate, a further 2 million who receive extremely low wages and another milion who are employed on so-called junk contracts.
The trade union leaders concluded that it was only through joint actions that the government’s policies could be opposed. They have raised the possibility of carrying out protests before the Euro2012 football championships and also announced that they will collect signitures for a resolution to force a referendum on the government’s plans to raise the retirement age.