Trade unions occupy a special place among Poland’s organizations and public associations, mainly due to the role played by the “Solidarity” trade union during the political and social upheaval after 1980.
The trade union movement began to develop strongly in Poland only after the country regained its independence in 1918. During the Interbellum, hundreds of trade unions operated in Poland, representing dozens of industries and political affiliations. Before the outbreak of the Second World War, the Polish unionist movement began to take on a more radical stance as a result of the rising influence of the Communist International.
After WWII, the rich traditions of Polish trade-unionism yielded to the communist ideology and the totalitarian system. Trade unions were nationalized and centralized in a façade institution, the Central Trade Union Council.
After the strikes began along Poland’s coast in 1980, the situation changed completely. The Independent Self-governing Labour Union "Solidarity" (Niezależny Samorządny Związek Zawodowy "Solidarność") set up at the time was the first independent trade-unionist organization in post-WWII Poland (and in all of Europe and Asia under communist rule). In a short period of time, the union transformed into a massive social movement, almost 10 million strong, which led to the collapse of the communist state and, in turn, to the downfall of the of totalitarian rule in Poland.
Today, the biggest trade unions operating in Poland under the Act on the Tripartite Commission for Social and Economic Affairs are: the All-Poland Alliance of Trade Unions (Ogólnopolskie Porozumienie Związków Zawodowych, or OPZZ) with its seat in Warsaw, the Independent Self-governing Labour Union "Solidarity" with its National Committee in Gdańsk, and the Trade Unions Forum (Forum Związków Zawodowych, FZZ) with its seat in Bydgoszcz.
Employers’ organizations include: the Polish Confederation of Private Employers Lewiatan, Employers of Poland, the Polish Craft Association, and the Business Centre Club. The primary task of employers’ organizations, federations and confederations is defending the rights and interests of members in negotiations with trade unions.
More information about trade unions and employers’ organizations is available at: www.dialog.gov.pl.
Both OPZZ and “Solidarity” belong to the European Trade Union Confederation – an umbrella organization for Europe’s biggest trade unions, as well as the International Confederation of Trade Unions. All three of Poland’s major trade unions take part in the work of the International Labour Organization.
Representatives of OPZZ, “Solidarity” and FZZ represent employees on the Tripartite Commission for Social and Economic Affairs – the primary institution dealing with social dialogue in Poland. The Tripartite Commission is a forum uniting employee organizations, employers and government representatives which seeks to reach agreements on such issues as wages and social benefits, taxation, budget bills, as well as other issues which help maintain social stability. The Commission was created in 1994 pursuant to a government resolution. The Tripartite Commission for Social and Economic Affairs is composed of government representatives nominated by the prime minister, representatives of trade unions, and representatives of key employers’ organizations.
Smaller trade unions in Poland include: the Independent Self-Governing Trade Union "Solidarity '80", which refers to the unionist tradition of the 1980s, as well as sector-specific organization such as the Polish Miners Trade Union, the Polish Teachers’ Union, Federation of Railway Workers' Unions (Polish State Railways), and the All-Polish Union of Nurses and Midwives.
A key role in the Polish trade union movement is played by trade unions of individual farmers, which care for the interests of rural inhabitants and agricultural producers. Like their European counterparts, Polish farmers like to stage spectacular protests that include dumping agricultural produce or by-products in public places and the holding of blockades on roads, motorways, and railroads.
The most important trade unions representing farmers include the National Union of Farmers, Co-operatives and Agricultural Organisations and the Independent Self-Governing Trade Union of Individual Farmers “Solidarity.”