Trade unions join women’s coalition to mark International Women’s Day

On 8 March 2010, annual demonstrations for women’s rights took place in many Polish cities to mark International Women’s Day. This year’s demonstrations were held under the banner ‘Solidarity in crisis – solidarity in struggle’. The organisers consisted not only of feminist groups but also some national trade unions. In Warsaw, four trade union organisations joined the feminist coalition the 8 March Women’s Alliance.

Demonstrations for women’s rights, marking International Women’s Day, have been organised in Poland by the 8 March Women’s Alliance (Porozumienie Kobiet 8 Marca, PK8M) for the last 10 years. This year’s demonstrations took place in seven cities: Gdańsk in the north of the country, Poznań in west-central Poland, Kraków and Katowice in the south, Wrocław in the southwest, Olsztyn in the northeast and the capital city of Warsaw. The biggest gathering took place in Warsaw, where – according to various estimates – between 5,000 and 7,000 people joined the protest. Four national-level trade union federations responded positively to the invitation of PK8M and joined the protest in Warsaw: namely, the Free Trade Union ‘August 80’ (Wolny Związek Zawodowy ‘Sierpień 80’, WZZ Sierpień 80), the Polish Teachers’ Union (Związek Nauczycielstwa Polskiego, ZNP), the Nationwide Union of Nurses and Midwives (Ogólnopolski Związek Zawodowy Pielęgniarek i Położnych, OZZPiP) and the All-Poland Alliance of Trade Unions (Ogólnopolskie Porozumienie Związków Zawodowych, OPZZ).

Main demands of women’s coalition

Although the issue of women’s economic discrimination has always been on the agenda of PK8M, demonstrations in earlier years were predominantly focused on women’s civic rights and human rights. By contrast, this year’s demonstrations explicitly promoted broad economic and social issues.

Socioeconomic demands

The demands of the women’s coalition included the following:

  • payment of wage rises to nurses, guaranteed by the 2007 Act on Healthcare Institutions, and the ‘depenalisation’ of workers’ strikes;
  • restitution of the network of public crèches and kindergartens in line with the initiative of ZNP;
  • legal prohibition of the practices adopted by some temporary work agencies depriving workers of social security and employees’ rights by replacing employment contracts with freelance contracts;
  • prevention of lay-offs and irregular payment of wages under the pretext of the economic crisis;
  • state guarantees of pensions for widows and domestic workers, and a state contribution to the pension fund for female entrepreneurs on maternity leave and parental leave;
  • prevention of illegal evictions and the introduction of the right to housing, which could be effectively pursued in a court of law;
  • promotion of parental leave for men and a more efficient collection of alimony.

Other demands

Apart from socioeconomic issues, the demands also included the following:

  • opposition to the restrictive abortion law;
  • legal prevention of domestic violence;
  • objective sexual education at schools;
  • better access to in-vitro fertilisation (IVF);
  • inheritance rights to gay and lesbian couples;
  • introduction of a quota system for women in parliamentary elections.

Trade union involvement

According to rough estimates, the demonstration involved some 200 members of ZNP, along with 200 members of other trade unions affiliated to OPZZ, 64 members of OZZPiP and about 30 members of WZZ Sierpień 80. Except for WZZ Sierpień 80, whose members joined the demonstration for the third time, trade unions had not participated in the event before.

The trade unions considered the demonstrations not only an opportunity to criticise insufficient government support for women and their families in situations of economic crisis, but also a chance to draw public attention to some of their current campaigns. ZNP promoted its legislative initiative ‘Kindergarten for every child’, aimed at extending access to pre-school education in less privileged areas of the country by reintroducing central government subvention to crèches and kindergartens. The demand for ‘depenalisation’ of strikes was, in turn, put forward by OZZPiP following the case of its activists, who were laid off and sentenced to fines as a consequence of a strike organised in a hospital in the central city of Łódź in September 2008.

Commentary

Coalition building between trade unions and women’s movements is a new strategy in Poland. It remains to be seen whether their cooperation can be maintained in the long term. While socioeconomic issues seem to be the factors uniting both social milieus – especially in the context of the current economic crisis – the discourse of feminism, including sensitive cultural issues, may be difficult for some trade union leaders and members to accept.

Adam Mrozowicki, Institute of Public Affairs and University of Wroclaw

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