Union Strategies Towards Young Precarious Workers: The Case of Poland

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 16:15
Oral Presentation
Jan CZARZASTY, Warsaw School of Economics, Poland
Adam MROZOWICKI, University of Wroclaw, pl. Uniwersytecki 1, 50-137 Wroclaw, Poland
Trade unions worldwide struggle to halt de-unionisation process. Poland is no exception. The traditional clientele of trade unions, predominantly male workers with steady jobs in manufacturing, as well as in the public sector has shrunk. Despite variety of revitalization strategies put into action since 1990s, the effects appear to be meagre in terms of effectively attracting new groups within the working population to unions. Should the young precarious workers become the new target group for Polish unions? Considering the growing extent of precarious employment in general, and among the youngest participants in the labour market, in particular, the stakes are high for trade unions. However, three crucial questions arise: 1) do young precarious workers need trade unions, 2) do trade unions need young precarious workers?, and 3) provided, trade unions assume they actually need young precarious workers, are they capable to effectively recruit such people? In the context of the debates on the nature of union (structural, institutional, associational and discursive) power resources in semi-peripheral, dependent variety of capitalism in Poland, the paper seeks answers to those questions based on the results of the ongoing comparative research project PREWORK (funded by NCN-DFG), and draws from 60 biographical narrative interviews with young precarious workers (aged 18-30), in particular a subsample of young activists of unions and political organizations struggling against precarity, as well as representative CATI (n=1000) and PAPI (n=1000) surveys conducted in Poland in 2016-2017. It is argued that the key challenges for unions in Poland are: (1) the tendency to “normalize” precarity as an expected part of individual careers by a large part of young workers studied; (2) the tendency to hijack union agenda by right-wing populist parties and movements which encourages a part of young people to support them instead of supporting the organized labour.