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Labour Protest in Poland

Trade Unions and Employee Interest Articulation After Socialism


Michał Wenzel

This book is an account of protests organized by trade unions from the late socialism to the 21 st century. It uses protest event analysis and mass surveys to examine the impact of trade unions on institutions before and after systemic change. Social protest in the post-war Poland was primarily a working-class phenomenon. Unionized employees were able to influence transformation processes in many ways: directly in enterprises, politically via their representatives in parties, and indirectly by creating a public opinion sympathetic with their goals. Individual chapters contain theoretical assumptions, an overview of employee protest under state socialism, the dynamics of trade union membership, and a detailed description of trade union protest activities after systemic change. A comparison between protest dynamics in Poland and in Hungary serves as illustration of legacies of negotiated transition on social mobilization.
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8. Poland and Hungary: Negotiated Transition as Significant Legacy


So far, the analysis concerned Poland. The statistics and in-depth examination of methods and demands present a relatively clear picture of the structure of protest activities. The dominant model throughout the period under study was working-class, union-organized protest with economic goals. Its forms changed from predominantly strikes and strike alerts to demonstrations, and its frequency receded in the long run. This type of activity was more common than activity launched in the name of identities, regional interests, values, social change projects etc.

In order to interpret the significance of this finding, a reference point is used. Hungary is a country in many ways similar to Poland, which controls for a number of intervening context variables. It is roughly on the same level of economic development. The two states experienced similar transition: a negotiated settlement between the communist government and the opposition. In terms of party politics, both countries were characterized by similar development of the party system: post-communist left and post-oppositional right alternated in government until late 2000s, when the post-communist left lost its popularity.

These similarities notwithstanding, civil society and the legacy of communism are different. While both countries were relatively free under state socialism compared with the other states in the Soviet bloc, independent activism was located in different social strata. In Poland, independent self-organization was strongest (numerically, at least) among workers in largest industrial plants. In Hungary, on the other hand, it was a phenomenon associated more with intellectual circles. These...

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