In the front line: women, work and new spaces of labour politics in Poland
Pessimistic accounts of women's lives in post-communist Poland view women as powerless and passive victims of the transformation process. In contrast, this article argues that while political change and the restructuring of the economy have closed down some spaces of articulation and organisation, others have opened up. The article focuses on the way in which women in their spheres of work are shaping and actively resisting change through new organisations and individual and collective actions, which are in some ways a break with the past, but in other ways build on previous forms of activity. The work draws on qualitative research conducted over the last decade across Poland. This has coupled extensive interviews with women workers, national and regional trade union leaders, activists and feminists in a number of major Polish cities with reviews of Polish media and policy. We examine the economic and ideological context in which these new articulations are taking place, against the background of Poland's post-war communism and the rise of opposition movements. We look at the neoliberal restructuring of the economy and the implications for women within the labour market and in their domestic lives. In particular, we examine initiatives from below in workplace organisation, by focusing on new unions and new actions in the public sector, and the beginnings of organisation in the new areas of the economy such as supermarkets. Finally, we look at how women are articulating their interests beyond formal workplaces. We conclude that we should be optimistic about these new spaces of activism. While some are well established, others are embryonic but provide a strong foundation on which women can increase their participation in spaces that promote their varied interests.