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(en) Poland, WORKERS' INITIATIVE: Trade unions, women's strike and birth control [machine translation]
Fri, 4 Jan 2019 07:53:12 +0200
OZZ IP at the demonstration "World day of safe abortion - prochoice march" (Warsaw
30/09/2018) ---- Reproductive works are all works carried out in favor of generation
revival and maintaining people's health and life, so that societies can reproduce and
function in the biological as well as socio-cultural sphere. These works can be carried
out by public and private institutions, but above all by ourselves - within the household
(family). We often associate them with caring functions, but they have a broader
character. ---- The discussion about this issue intensified in connection with the
introduction of the "500 plus" program by the PiS government, whose actual goal was to
achieve an increase in the number of births. However, from the perspective of work and
trade unions, this program can be treated as a form of pay or compensation for caring for
children by parents, mainly women. The second issue was attempts to tighten the right to
abortion in parallel, which is still one of the most restrictive in the world in Poland.
In this context, there have been a number of criticisms of the current policy of the PiS
government and protests that aim to defend the so-called reproductive rights of women. The
Employee Initiative also supported the tightening of the Act.
According to the World Health Organization, reproductive rights rely on the recognition of
the fundamental right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly
about the number, timing and time of bringing children into the world, the right to
information, access to resources that provide it, and the right to maintain the highest
standard sexual and reproductive health. It is the right to make decisions about having or
not children in a way that is free from discrimination, coercion and violence. These
rights include primarily: the right to sex education, the right to a lawful and safe
abortion; the right to use methods and techniques of contraception and (more broadly)
birth control; the right to access health care in the field of procreation in accordance
with medical standards.
Below is a text by Maria Debinska from the Warsaw Environmental Commission, OZZ IP, which
is a review from the discussion organized in Warsaw by the OZZ Inicjatywa Paczownicza,
regarding reproductive rights.
Trade unions, women's strike and birth control
On September 26, 2018, I had the pleasure of moderating the discussion organized by the
Warsaw IP committees on the role of trade unions in the ongoing fight for women's rights
in Poland. The immediate impulse for its organization was a demonstration on the occasion
of the World Day of Safe Abortion on September 30. The discussion was attended by members
of the Warsaw IP committees: Olga Gitkiewicz from the Journalists and Journalists
Commission, Ewa Majewska from the IP Works Commission at the University of Warsaw, Sylwia
Pawlak from the IP Works Commission in the Universal Theater and Katarzyna Rakowska from
the Warsaw Environmental Commission.
Participants in the discussion discussed three issues: (1) why reproductive rights should
be an area of trade unions, (2) how trade unions can get involved in the fight for them
and (3) what tools they have.
Choice or coercion?
In the first part, we talked about how reducing the reproductive rights of women in Poland
affects their situation on the labor market.
Katarzyna Rakowska talked about her experience from IP activity: "We know people on a
contract of employment who have been at work because of too hard working conditions; we
know people employed under a contract of employment who could not return to work, were
very unwelcome at work after returning from maternity leave; we know people on civil law
contracts that did not have sick pay, so they did not have the right to a maternity
allowance; we have people on civil law contracts, which, reading our guides and brochures,
paid a sickness contribution from each contract of employment, and it turned out that the
maternity allowance is due only to one contract. So if these contracts are 10 each for
300-400 PLN, the benefit is counted only from one contract. "
Olga Gitkiewicz described the situation of many women working in her profession, in which
most people work on the basis of commissioned contracts or contracts for specific work,
which means that they are deprived of many forms of support from the state. Especially
getting a place in kindergarten or nursery is very difficult for them, because people on
such contracts receive less points during recruitment. As a result, women are forced to
return to work very quickly after childbirth, because they are not entitled to maternity
leave and at the same time can not count on institutional care for children.
Another important issue raised by Ewa Majewska was the economic impact of the ban on
abortion. "As long as we talk about it as a choice, we lose. For me it was not a choice, I
was in an economic situation in which the birth of a child was not possible. I decided a
lot earlier that I would not have children, but at that moment (when I decided to have an
abortion) it was by no means a choice. "
Majewska argued that the ban on abortion is expanding the area of poverty in our society,
condemning people who are already poor, to even greater misery - regardless of whether
they take a loan and remove pregnancy, whether they will be born and will be burdened with
maintenance costs (often the next ) child. That is why it is time to stop looking at
abortion as an individual choice and focus on the economic consequences of the prohibition
of abortion. Katarzyna Rakowska puts it similarly - access to legal, safe and free
abortion determines our ability to work, our mental and physical health, affects our lives
The problems do not end with pregnancy, but also concern the care of children, whether we
can work, because we have this protection, or whether we can not work because we want to
look after children. Do we have to rely on incomes (usually male) partners in such a
situation? Katarzyna Rakowska emphasized that "capitalism does not end at the door of the
workplace and affects all spheres of our lives, it also affects the sphere of sexuality
and reproduction very deeply". Access to safe and free abortion, contraception, sex
education or childcare largely affects the situation of women in the labor market and
their position in relation to the employer.
The role of trade unions
What, then, can trade unions do for us? What forms of support do we expect from them? Ewa
Majewska postulated that the activities of unions in the sphere of women's rights should
be based on solidarity and did not rely on one-way support for the "weaker" from the
privileged position. According to Majewska, solidarity allows us to create a relationship
in which we recognize that we can learn strategies to combat them from people affected by
various forms of oppression.
Sylwia Pawlak described the initiative of the IP commission in the Universal Theater,
where the problem was the lack of childcare after 5 pm, while many people worked in the
evenings. As a result, a childcare center was organized and their parents can work without
worrying about who to leave their children with.
Katarzyna Rakowska described the IP actions aimed at improving the working conditions in
terms of sexual harassment as well as psychological and physical violence as well as
exploiting the company social benefits fund for subsidies for kindergartens and crèches.
She emphasized that these funds are usually used for sports cards and "under-the-pear"
travel. It is rare for trade unions to use them for purposes related to the support of the
educational and caring sphere.
An important topic of the discussion was the reproductive work and the necessity of its
valorization. Sylwia Pawlak postulated a change in the way of speaking about homework:
"Often, a woman who looks after a child is said to be sitting at home. The very wording
reduces the value of her work. " Ewa Majewska quoted data on the market value of care
work. Women in Poland usually work two jobs: at home and at work, and the contribution of
homework to GDP is calculated annually by the Central Statistical Office and amounts to
around 30%. Trade unions in the struggle for workers' rights should therefore take this
into account, because this double burden affects the professional position of women.
Towards a women's strike
The discussion about various forms of union involvement in the fight for reproductive
women's rights naturally led to questions about the meaning of the "National Strike of
Women", Black Protests and other mass mobilizations for women's rights.
Olga Gitkiewicz reminded that at first the women's strike was considered a strike by name
only, many people claimed that it was a protest about moral issues in which women from big
cities took part, but it did not concern the problems of working-class women or workers'
rights. Two years after the black protests, the situation is different. The consistent
calling of these protests on strike widened the definition of work and introduced into the
public debate the problem of reproductive labor. This was confirmed by Katarzyna Rakowska:
calling something a strike and a reference to tools, tactics, strategies traditionally
used by trade unions makes the reproduction and parenting reproduce as a job.
The idea of a strike seems more and more common and shows the determination of women in
the fight for their rights. Care and upbringing are increasingly considered as work, but
this is happening in social movements, and trade unions remain somewhat off the beaten
track. Although they have finally joined the women's strike, it can be seen that they do
not find themselves in social activities outside the workplace. The question, then, is
what can trade unions do to fight for the rights of those who do care work? Unfortunately,
the Act on solving collective disputes makes it difficult to strike in non-business
matters, such as government policy. In this respect, trade unions in Poland are in a much
more difficult situation than trade unions abroad. Ewa Majewska recalled recent
demonstrations regarding the legalization of abortion in Argentina, which were supported
by strikes organized by the unions. Polish law in many ways makes this form of engagement
more difficult, but all participants of the discussion agreed that women's rights are
closely related to reproductive rights and should be an area of trade unions - also
outside the workplace.
Katarzyna Rakowska emphasized that trade unions still have a large field of action in
social matters: "As trade unions, we have a big impact on discourse and a strong
bargaining power in relation to the government and the state. We as an IP, a small but
radical relationship, have already changed the public debate several times. 10 years ago,
we ran a campaign "temporary work - permanent discrimination", which was then considered
radical. Today, Gazeta Wyborcza criticizes garbage every second day. "
Ewa Majewska and Katarzyna Rakowska emphasized that participation in demonstrations is one
of the basic tools we have at our disposal in the fight for our rights. Katarzyna Rakowska
encouraged participation in the demonstration on September 30 under the slogan "Abortion
means life": "I am always happy when we go together as a trade union. We show in this way
that the organization is behind our convictions. This always gives you more message power.
It shows that these are not individual views or individual matters, but real economic and
employee interests, and there are organizations in Poland that will fight for these
economic interests. "
In the second part of the discussion, the panelists and the audience wondered what actions
we could take under IP to join the fight for women's reproductive rights. We will try to
implement these ideas in practice in the coming months.
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