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Radical Unions in Europe and the Future of Collective Interest Representation


Edited By Heather Connolly, Lefteris Kretsos and Craig Phelan

This book analyses contemporary trends in radical unionism in Europe. It contains nine country case-studies that probe the limits and possibilities of trade union renewal with a focus on radical activity. The editors follow a broad definition of radical unionism, including trade union organisations that can be characterised as radical either in terms of ideology and political identity or in terms of organising and mobilising activity. The ongoing economic crisis and consequent austerity measures, and employers’ strategies for increasing labour market flexibility have encouraged the deregulation of capitalism in Europe. The question this book asks is whether radicalised unionism, political action and grassroots activism present opportunities for union renewal and collective interest representation in this economic context. This question is examined in nine national contexts with diverse industrial relations frameworks and trade unions. The editors assess the degree to which we are witnessing the emergence of ‘radical political unionism’ as an alternative model of trade unionism in Europe, focused on class struggle, engagement in social movement activity beyond the workplace, and politicised union strategies aligned to new left-wing political formations.
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Radical Trade Unions in Poland: The Meanings and Mechanisms of Union Radicalisation in a Post-Socialist Capitalism



This chapter explores the cases of the emergence of radical unions in Poland and the recent trend toward radicalisation in larger trade union confederations in the second decade after the collapse of state socialism in 1989. Poland is an example of a post-socialist country with relatively strong traditions of radical worker mobilisation. The best-known contemporary example of radical grass roots Polish union was the Independent Self-governing Trade Union ‘Solidarity’ (Niezależny Samorządny Związek Zawodowy ‘Solidarność, NSZZ ‘Solidarność’), which in 1980 became the first independent trade union in the communist bloc. This grass roots worker organisation was broken by the martial law introduced by communist authorities on 13 December 1981, involving widespread persecution. Although the union re-emerged underground soon after and was again legalised in 1989, the radical wing of NSZZ Solidarnosc seemed to have been conquered and marginalised. In the process of economic and political changes at the beginning of the 1990s, the re-born NSZZ Solidarność assumed the role of overseer of market reforms which were considered an antidote against communist legacies and a vehicle for the country’s modernisation (Ost, 2005). The formerly official union confederation, the All-Poland Alliance of Trade Unions (Ogólnopolskie Porozumienie Związków Zawodowych, OPZZ), was locked in its legacy of a state-dependent trade union and began to quickly lose its ground in privatised enterprises. As the result of hostile economic conditions and union inertia, trade union density ← 209 | 210 → fell from around 38 per cent in...

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