Trade Unions as Anti-Development Power

In his article “The Reasons Why I Like Trade Unions (Potentially)” Krzysztof Iszkowski responds positively to these Polish institutions’ demands. I must admit that my editorial friend’s article surprised me very much. Trade unions are one of a democratic state’s institutions and even a liberal should notice the value of their existence. But it is difficult for me to accept the fact that a liberal can identify himself with the demands voiced by these organisations, especially in Poland. In the majority of cases, they are extremely anti-development and fulfilling these demands will only lead to the increase in the unemployment rate.

In the ‘90s trade unions in Poland became a mainstay for populism and protection of different kinds of labour groups’ interests and it happened in an automatic and thoughtless way. It became a mainstay for interests which very often strike against the rules of equal opportunities or equality of professions. Trade unions often maintain regulations which make it impossible to carry out essential reforms in such fields as e.g. education, which are crucial to the state and citizens. The Teacher’s Charter, which has been defended to the last by Polish Teachers’ Union, is a flagship example of the situation when trade unions in Poland can paralyse essential reforms in a sensitive area. It is unusual how these organisations have diminished the great public trust which they inherited after the social movement Solidarity from ‘80s.

What is more, trade unions in Poland have become an ideal haven for different kinds of populists, who try – by means of these institutions – to intervene in state’s political life directly. A historic example is surely Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS), but more contemporary ways of Janusz Śniadek or currently Piotr Duda (the leader of the Solidarity trade union) confirm this relationship. As a result, trade unions occupy themselves mainly with organising demonstrations and typically political actions instead of focusing on grassroots activity, training employees, stimulating them to a constant vocational education, explaining economic realities or, like in the past, organising social insurances. What is worse, unionists have been lacking a wider view of the state and a general economic interest for many years. Only cheap, catchy slogans, things one manages to win for the staff of his “own” company and occurrence in media matter. Trade unions act hand-in-hand with political parties: Solidarity with Law and Justice (PiS) and the All-Poland Alliance of Trade Unions (OPZZ) with Democratic Left Alliance (SLD). Very often, the ones who stay in companies, not the ones who may be dismissed because of their actions, count for trade unions activists. Yet, only people who still work will vote for them. This narrow egoism of trade unions activists distorts the activity of such institutions in Poland.

The system of financing trade unions in Poland is also inappropriate. The regulations according to which a company is to employ an unionist full-time, in my opinion, are indecent. A unionist is exempted from professional work and still has a right to remuneration for the time necessary to perform temporary action which results from his union function. It concerns one employee chosen by a trade union if it has 150-500 members who are employed in workplace. An employer also has to make rooms and equipment necessary for performing activity available to him. As long as a room for meeting is understandable, a settlement on  equipment is at least controversial. This is a pathological system with which a tragedy of many trade unions activists is also connected. Such activists develop their careers in an organisation but do not perform their profession. As a result, there arises a problem – who will employ an engineer who has not performed his profession for 10 years? Trade unions should function like other associations and they should finance their activity themselves. Such trade unions exist in Anglo-Saxon countries, where they have fundraising success, where regulations do not create pathological systems of financing unionists and do not impose incomprehensible burdens on entrepreneurs.

For many years, trade unions in Poland have been putting forward solutions which actually will increase the unemployment rate and cause Poland to fall into economic crisis for good. Getting rid of civil law contracts, which are a possible form of employment, will obviously cause two effects. First of all, the increase in the unemployment rate. A small entrepreneur will not agree to employ somebody on the terms of contract of employment. The costs will be too high and if we add a not really flexible possibility to dismiss an employee to it, it will cause a situation in which a small firm will not be able to face. Instead of this, an entrepreneur will work for many hours a day – on his own and beyond his power. He will work like that the whole week and weekends, just to have a chance to survive. Many people who so far have been making a living on the terms of specific task contracts or contracts of mandate will end up in a helpless job centre. Secondly, it will cause a rapid increase in pseudo-entrepreneurship because the ones who are seemingly cleverer will choose their own business activity. The problem is that fictional companies will be created in great numbers and these companies will not be able to stay in the market. Krzysztof Iszkowski wrote about stimulating the economy by increasing the revenues of the poorest ones, meanwhile a change from civil law contracts to business activity in view of bigger and more stable contributions to the Social Insurance Institution (ZUS) will mean a significant decrease in revenues. A similar negative effect will take place in the case of raising the so called minimum wage. It will again cause an increase in the unemployment rate. Especially small and medium entrepreneurs will obviously dismiss people and impose more and more duties on the employees who will remain.

The demands of trade unions are beneficial only to employees of big enterprises, who have strong professional positions. Whereas the introduction of these demands will mean a negative effect on all small and medium enterprises sector on which Polish economy is based. It will have a negative influence on all young employees, who fight for their position and, paradoxically, on the poorest and the unemployed, for whom it will be more difficult to come back to the labour market. The realisation of union demands would contribute to the slowdown of state’s economic growth, which is fading anyway.

Trade unions can be liked but only potentially. They can be liked when they turn from populist-lobbying organisations into institutions organised in an Anglo-Saxon way, which really help people stay in the market, support raising their qualifications and striving for collective insurances, which is specific for the activity of trade unions in Scandinavian countries. A Polish variant cannot be liked even potentially.

Translation: Anita Stradomska.

Proof – reading: Katarzyna Różańska.