Industrial relations in Poland. Historical background, institutional evolution and research trends

Publication Date04 Jun 2018
AuthorJan Czarzasty,Adam Mrozowicki
Industrial relations in Poland
Historical background, institutional evolution
and research trends
Jan Czarzasty
Institute of Philosophy, Sociology and Economic Sociology,
Warsaw School of Economics, Warsaw, Poland, and
Adam Mrozowicki
Institute of Sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Wrocław,
Wroclaw, Poland
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to examine the interrelations between the evolution of industrial
relations (IR) and IR research in Poland in the historical context. Two questions are put forward: How was the
evolution of the IR system in Poland influenced by the re-constitution of a particular model ofthe capitalism
and the strategies and struggle of IR actors? How were the ways of approaching and theorizing IR influenced
by the aforementioned evolution?
Design/methodology/approach The paper draws upon academic literature, secondary data on actors
and processes of IR as well as four expert interviews with the representatives of the first generation of IR
scholars in Poland.
Findings The paper suggests that the development of the IR system and the related scholarship can be
divided into three phases: the pre-1989 period characterised by the lack of autonomous interests
representation and rather limited IR research; the early development of the post-1989 IR system marked by
the debates on the integrative role of IR as peacekeeping mechanism in the period of deep economic and
political changes (1989-2004); the post-EU accession consolidation of the IR system characterised by the
weakness of the IR actors vis-à-vis the state and increasing neo-etatist tendencies.
Originality/value This paper contributes to the ongoing debate on the relationships between the emergent
models of Eastern European capitalism and the evolution of IR systems. It critically analyses the state of
the discussion on the IR field Poland emphasising the relevance of political-economic factors as well as the
ideology of social peacefor both the evolution of the IR system in the country and the state of the IR debate.
Keywords Poland, Industrial relations, Trade unions, Ideology, Etatism, Systemic transformation,
History of industrial relations
Paper type General review
This paper explores the relationships between institutional development of the industrial
relations (IR) and the approaches to their analysis in Poland. Despite the growing body of
research on the evolution of the IR in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) (e.g. Bernaciak and
Kahancova, 2017; Delteil and Kirov, 2016; Glassner, 2013), the number of studies which
explore the interconnections between institutional and political developments, the IR actors
strategies and the main academic debates and research traditions is limited. Poland
represents an interesting case to explore the institutionalisation of the IR system and
research on it for at least two reasons. First, it was one of few countries in CEE which
witnessed cyclic workersrevolts against state socialist bureaucracy. The emergence of the
first independent trade union, Solidarity, in 1980 meant a breakaway from a monistic
model of unionism. Second, despite the legacies of workersmobilisation, Poland also
experienced a radical decrease of trade union density and power after 1989 which was
accompanied by the conviction of both academics and IR actors about the need to maintain
social peace in the course of reforms through a specific shaping of the IR system. Differently
from the Anglo-Saxon tradition (e.g. Heery et al., 2008), the assumption about the opposed
interests of employees and employers and the conflict as an immanent part of the IR process
Employee Relations
Vol. 40 No. 4, 2018
pp. 674-691
© Emerald PublishingLimited
DOI 10.1108/ER-04-2017-0082
Received 11 April 2017
Revised 6 June 2017
11 July 2017
Accepted 11 July 2017
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
was quite often questioned in the public and academic discourses in Poland. As a result,
there is a gap between rather blooming analysis of social dialogue actors, institutions and
processes and relatively scarce analysis of conflicts, tensions and social struggles which
accompanied the emergence and stabilisation of the post-1989 system.
Addressing this gap, in the article we address two main questions. First, how was the
evolution of IR in Poland influenced by the political processes accompanying the re-constitution
of capitalism in its embedded neoliberaland dependentmode (cf. Bohle and Greskovits,
2012; Nölke and Vliegenthart, 2009), socio-economic changes in the country and the strategies
and struggles of the re-emergent IR actors? Second, how was the evolution of IR in Poland
reflected and captured by the existing scholarship and what are the main gaps, tensions and
frictions within the study field of IR? For the sake of space and given our own disciplinary
background, the main focus will be on economic sociology which, arguably, played central role
in the field both before and after 1989. The IR analyses in legal studies, political sciences and
economics will also be addressed as long as they are related to the debates within sociology.
Regarding the periodisation of the IR evolution, we take into account three phases: first, pre-1989
period including the period of 1956-1980 (i.e. in between massive workersprotests in 1956
marking the end of Stalinism and the emergence of NSZZ Solidarność (thereinafter, Solidarity)
in 1980) and the period of 1980-1989 (until the first semi-free parliamentary elections in 1989);
second, the emergence of the post-1989 IR field in Poland and the main IR institutions and actors
(1989-2004); third, the full institutionalisation ofthe IR system which starting point can be placed
in the Polands accession to the European Union in 2004 and which lasts until now. The last
period is additionally divided into two sub-phases: 2004-2009 (until economic slowdown caused
by global financial crisis) and 2009- until the present moment (including potentially new peri od
after the victory of the Law and Justice in parliamentary and presidential elections in 2015).
The article point of departure is the analysis of the institutional evolution of the IR in
Poland. Next, we move to the presentation of the related developments in IR research. While
the majority of the text is based on our earlier research, we also make use of four expert
interviews with the representatives of the older generation of IR scholars carried out by the
members of the Sociology of Work Section of the Polish Sociological Association within the
ongoing project Doyens of the sociology work(in 2016-2017). The interviewees included:
Professors Juliusz Gardawski and Wiesława Kozek (interviewed by A. Mrozowicki),
Professor Jolanta Kulpińska (interviewed by Ewa Giermanowska) and Professor Witold
Morawski (interviewed by Piotr Ostrowski).
The article argues thatthe development of IR in Poland was a state-dominated process in
which newly reconstituted IR actors acquired limited power in shaping labour policies at
sectoral and national level. Combined with the ideology of social peace, it contributed to the
emergence of IR system deprived of the efficient mechanisms supporting the aggregation of
collective interests. In the context of the limited structural power of workers and Polish
employers due to the dependent nature of capitalism in Poland, it made them to seek for
political coalitions to advance their collective interests. This, in turn, lead to the further
politicisationand neo-etatisation of IR which accelerated following the 2015elections won by
the Law and Justice party (PiS). As result, the IR actors and processes are further weakened
and the competitive pluralism ofunions, reflecting their politicalalliances, is likely to intensify
in the future.The related challenges are stillto be grasped by the IR scholarship. Nevertheless,
our analysis suggests that the latter became much better theoretically and methodologically
equipped to understand the political-economic nature of the IR field in the recent years.
The politics of peace: the evolution of IR in Poland
Polands capitalism and IR
The theoretical context of the presentation of the institutional evolution of IR in Poland is
the discussion on the relationship between the characteristics of the Polish political economy
relations in

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