Two right-wing parties, Civic Platform (PO), and Law and Justice (PiS), are set to win the Polish parliamentary elections on 25 September. Meanwhile, the ruling party, the post-Stalinist, Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), is struggling to avoid repeating the meltdown which Solidarity Election Action (AWS) experienced in the last general election. Four years ago, after a series of disastrous reforms of the health service and the pension system, and following embroilment in corruption scandals, the coalition government parties, AWS and Freedom Union (UW), failed even to win a single seat in parliament.
However, even in comparison with AWS, SLD’s collapse in support is stunning. The party came to power with almost 40% of the vote on a wave of enormous anger and hatred for the outgoing government and expectations that a new SLD government would improve the lot of working people. The new government failed miserably, presiding over record levels of unemployment and was rocked by even more spectacular sleaze allegations than those which previously hit the AWS. Last year, the SLD experienced two damaging splits and currently stands at only 7% in opinion polls, just above the 5% needed to get representation in parliament.
With the demise of the SLD, there has been a huge growth in support for PO and PiS, ranging from between 27% to 33%, for each party. In addition, the reactionary League of Polish Families (LPR) currently stands at between 10% and 14%.
The future government will most likely be a coalition between PO and PiS. Whilst neck-to-neck in the polls, PO seems to have a slight advantage and will probably appoint the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance, leaving PiS with the key areas of state power, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of the Interior.
However, the new government will not be free from tension. PO is the main neo-liberal party. It wants to privatise the remaining state enterprises, sell off the shares that the state still holds in privatised enterprises, and to introduce a flat rate income tax, which will give an unprecedented tax cut for the rich, whilst at the same time cutting benefits and pensions, and raising the retirement age.
PiS, on the other hand, is a right-wing populist party focusing on the issue of law and order and opposing some of the excesses of neo-liberalism, such as the flat-rate tax. PiS also campaigns on the issue of corruption. However, Lech Kaczynski, leader of PiS and Mayor of Warsaw, took over in Warsaw he conducted a purge of the Warsaw City administration, replacing board members of the municipal companies with his trusted political allies, who in turn, have abused their positions of power. Whilst popular in the country, Kaczynski is hated by a large portion of Warsaw’s inhabitants.
Reactionary ‘Normality Parade’
Earlier this year, he banned the gay-pride ‘Equality Parade’, whipping up hatred towards gays and lesbians. This encouraged the neo-fascist All-Poland Youth, LPR’s unofficial youth section, to organize a ‘Normality Parade’, a week later, with the blessing of Kaczynski.
The level of support for the right-wing does not represent a significant shift to the right in Polish society. Rather, it is a result of enormous confusion in consciousness, the bankruptcy of SLD in the eyes of the masses, and the lack of a clear socialist alternative. Given this vacuum, both PiS and LPR have been able to pick up considerable support for their populist ideology. However, as the volatility of opinion polls show, this support is not stable.
The most advanced sections of the working class have no illusions in what to expect from a future PO-PiS government. In July, this year, 10,000 miners battled with police on the streets of Warsaw in protest against plans to abolish their right to early retirement. There was enormous bitterness towards the SLD government, frustration with their own union leaders, and also hatred towards the right-wing parties. The call for a new workers’ party received a favourable response and many miners talked about the need to take to the streets to crush the All-Poland Youth and LPR in the future.
After an initial period of wait-and-see, once the government goes onto the offensive against the working class, it will be met with bitter opposition from organised labour. However, at the same time, it must be recognized that reactionary right-wing forces, such as All-Poland Youth, will be strengthened and given more confidence as a result of the right’s victory.
Despite earlier declarations that it is prepared to form a government with PO, recently PiS has started digging up dirt against PO in alliance with other populist and right-wing parties. This indicates that if PiS has the most MPs in parliament, it could be tempted to form a coalition with LPR and Andrzej Lepper’s peasant party, Samoobrona. However, big business favours a PO government and will exert enormous pressure to ensure that PO wins the most seats and that PiS enters into a coalition, breaking with LPR and Samoobrona.
CWI backs workers’ leader election candidate
Enormous potential exists for left-wing and socialist candidates, standing on a clear working class programme. Group for a Workers’ Party (GPR), the Polish section of the CWI, is organizing the election campaign of a tram drivers’ leader in Radom, an industrial town where official unemployment stands at 27%. Grzegorz Kupis is a candidate on the Polish Labour Party (PPP) electoral list and is campaigning with the main slogan “A workers’ MP on a workers’ wage” and “Always on the side of working people”. He pledged he will fight against privatisation, mass redundancies, and the introduction of the market to the health service. He demands free universal health care funded by the state and the nationalization of all companies threatening to make workers redundant. Last year, Kupis proved his credentials as an uncompromising leader of Warsaw workers during the pay dispute with the city authorities, whilst all the other unions played a disgraceful strikebreaking role.
Last weekend, the small forces of GPR caused a stir by putting up 2,000 fly-posters all over Radom, and the outlying area, and distributing over 1,500 leaflets. The next day PPP and GPR hit the headlines of the local newspaper due to complaints from PiS and LPR that we had covered up their posters. The headline read, “War of posters. Aggressive election campaign in Radom.”
In response, GPR issued the following press release: “Many owners of private advertising boards and other surfaces have threatened us with court cases. On the other hand, many people have phoned Kupis with messages of support.”
“There wouldn’t have been such a commotion if the advertising boards were in public ownership and not privately owned. Unfortunately, everything in our country (apart from the air) has been privatised and we have to pay for everything. This means that only the bourgeoisie can conduct a legal election campaign.”
Unfortunately, the PPP campaign has been almost non-existent in other Polish cities and the party is running at only 1% in opinion polls. PPP appears to have very weak or inactive structures and its reformist programme, whilst containing many good demands, does not provide a clear socialist alternative to capitalism. Whilst campaigning for the PPP candidate in Radom, GPR continues to argue for the need for a genuine workers’ party with a socialist programme.