On 23 March — the day that has been dubbed “Black Friday”— tens of thousands of predominantly young activists descended on the centres of Poland’s major cities demanding the far-right Law and Justice government drop its plans for abortion reform.
Abortion law in Poland is already one of the most restrictive in the western world. The only exceptions under which a woman can obtain an abortion are in the case of a threat to the mother’s life, severe foetal abnormality or where conception is as a result of a crime (incest and rape).
The reform proposes to remove the exception in cases of foetal abnormality. This is a retreat from the complete ban defeated by similar mass protests in 2016.
Many women in Poland are forced into illegal abortions; legal abortions are difficult to obtain, due to the number of medical professionals who refuse to carry out the procedure on religiously conscientious grounds.
The protests against the changes, organised primarily through the insurgent left-wing Razem movement, are the latest example of an upsurge of anti-government activism in a country where the right and the far-right have consolidated state power.
The Polish parliament is an exclusively right-wing body. There has been no social-democrat or further left representation since 2015 when the once ruling Democratic Left Alliance lost all their remaining 27 seats in the pre-Pasokification which followed the abortive premiership of third-way social-democrat and former Stalinist civil servant Aleksander Kwasniewski.
Since 2005 power has alternated between the Law and Justice Party and the right-wing, Christian Democratic, Civil Platform.
As with its neighbour Hungary, successive right-wing governments have courted popularity through opportunistic gestures. President Andrzej Duda publicly and defiantly rejected the EU’s migrant quota proposal, eventually “successfully” halving the number of refugees Poland agreed to take.
Additionally, the government pounced on the understandable consternation in the country of the continued use of the term “Polish Death Camps” by lazy historians and journalists to refer to German extermination camps to enact a law which made it punishable by up to three years in prison for any suggestion the Polish nation was complicit in German crimes. A step widely condemned as criminalising free-speech.
Despite these and other nationalist and reactionary policies, the popularity of the government is at a high, with Duda’s approval rating standing at 72%. Most polls conducted on policy positions such as abortion show a significant anti-choice majority.
The rhetoric and success of these governments has also spurred a revival of extreme-right Polish nationalism and fascism. Attacks on ethnic minorities in Poland and racist demonstration have increased hugely over the past five years.
The labour movement in Poland is a fraction of its former self. In the 1981 it represented the largest independent, democratic trade union membership in history, where 10 million or 90% of all Polish workers represented by Solidarnosc beat Stalinism. Now just over two million are members of national unions or workplace associations and 97% of workplaces have no union. Where unions are “political” they are conservative and in support of many of the governments social policies. Solidarnosc, still a relatively major union federation, notably called off strikes in 2006 in order not to disrupt a Papal visit.
Against this backdrop, the emergent left-wing Razem Party was founded in 2015 by those dissatisfied with the post-Stalinist, Blairite, Social Democrats.
They have been key in organising mass protests of youth against government policy including the fawning state visit of Donald Trump in 2017, and as mentioned have successfully pushed the government to suspend and soften its position on abortion reform.
While Razem are strongest among students and less so among precarious workers, they are gathering limited support among traditional unionised sections of the workforce by being the lone voice in Polish politics demanding workers’ rights and opposition to privatisation as well as for secularism and women’s and LGBT rights.
Poland is a country with an unparalleled history of working-class organisation, strength, and resistance. Razem have the opportunity to provide the necessary political challenge to prevailing right-wing, nationalist attitudes.
Razem also has the opportunity to challenge the existing labour movement from a libertarian socialist perspective that both eschews the rightfully ridiculed and dismissed totalitarian state capitalism and Russian imperialism of the late 20th century and the nationalism, social conservatism and economic liberalism of the last 25 years.
Solidarity urges readers to support this movement which is at the forefront of fighting the barbarism of the far-right. You can find out how at partiarazem.pl