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Trade Union Revitalisation

Trends and Prospects in 34 Countries

Edited By Craig Phelan

Although trade unionism has been declining in virtually every part of the world, its continued demise is not a foregone conclusion. As it has throughout its history, trade unionism has demonstrated a capacity to adapt, to make its voice heard, to reassert its power. The scale and scope of experimentation taking place in the labour movement today is testimony not just to the depth of the crisis but also to the possibility of resurgence in the years ahead. This book is an essential resource for anyone wishing to know about contemporary labour issues. It offers a comprehensive introduction to the state of trade unionism in the world today, and the often innovative strategies and tactics trade unionists are using to revive their organisations in each of the major nations of the world. Leading labour scholars discuss, in clear prose, the health of the trade union movement, the present political and economic climate for trade union advancement, the dominant revitalisation strategies, and future prospects in each nation. Each chapter includes an up-to-date guide to further reading.


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Trade Union Revitalisation in Poland: Trends and Prospects 303


DAVID OST Trade Union Revitalisation in Poland: Trends and Prospects 1. Introduction Trade unions continue to have a hard time in Poland, as in other post- communist countries. The chief reason is the legacy of the communist past, which led to today’s weak unions, low membership, and low prestige, all of which present major obstacles to union revitalisation. There are signs of change in recent years, and they come from three sources: the experiences of actually-existing market societies, which are beginning to displace communist-era experiences as the baseline; the impact of the European Union, with its mandate for institutional- ised workplace representation and the resources to promote this; and innovativeness on the part of unions, itself a result of the previous two factors. Nevertheless, because unionism starts from such a weak level, and the postcommunist political culture has seen such a profound weakening of the union idea, it will take a long time for unions to regain their footing and be an influential force. It was the degradation of the work process that has proved to be the most damaging legacy the old system bequeathed to the new – or more precisely, the desire of skilled workers in the past to rectify that situation. That degradation, or the reduced value of skill, resulted both from communist-era emphasis of quantity over quality, and the massive influx of unskilled workers from the countryside into the fac- tories. Polish sociological research in the 1960s pointed to the dis- content this caused among the old,...

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