The left-wing “Together” Party’s petition to legislate for a 35 hour work week has failed to attract enough signatures for it to be considered by Parliament.
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Poland’s “Together” Party (Partia Razem) has been campaigning for the introduction of legislation to introduce a 35 hour work week by 2021. It organized a citizens’ petition in support of a legislative initiative. The collection of signatures in support of the proposal began on 7 May.
Citizens’ petition for 35 hour work week
According to legislative provision on the citizens’ legislative initiative Parliament is obliged to consider any initiative that commands 100,000 signatures. However, these signatures must be collected in a period of no more than three months from the date of the petition being registered.
The party has not made public the number of signatures it had managed to collect. It reported that the petition was signed by tens of thousands, but unofficial sources say that only between 30,000 and 40,000 signatures had been secured.
Marcelina Zawadzka, the party’s spokesperson, put a brave face on the failure. She said that the proposal would be the first of five legislative drafts the party will put before Poland’s Parliament after getting representation at the next election.
Inauspicious start to the local government election campaign
The failure to collect the signatures for a flagship project is not an auspicious start to the local government elections campaign. There is internal criticism in the party over the way the petition project was conceived and executed.
The “Together” Party had attempted to gather the signatures on its own. It had declined to work officially with the Democratic Left Alliance on promoting the petition, saying that people could participate in the gathering on an individual basis rather than as parties.
“Together” is planning to contest the local government elections in the provinces under its own name. In elections to city councils and for mayors it will work with environmental and city movements. A good example of that approach is in Warsaw where the party is supporting the independent left-winger Jan Śpiewak in the race for Mayor.
The new kid on the block on Poland’s left stalls
The “Together” Party was formed ahead of the Parliamentary elections in 2015. It was formed by left-wing activists who did not want to associate themselves with the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) because of the latter’s history of having evolved from the former Communist Party. “Together” from the outset had a collective leadership and campaigned on labor and axiomatic issues. It criticized the Democratic Left Alliance for being too socially conservative and too liberal on the economy.
The “Together” party came to prominence in the election campaign in 2015 as a result of an outstanding performance in a televised multi-party debate by its spokesperson Adrian Zandberg. The party caused a major surprise by polling nearly 4 percent in the parliamentary elections. However, this was not enough to secure representation in Parliament as the threshold in these elections is 5 percent. Nevertheless, the party qualified for state funding (all parties who poll over 3 percent are eligible for budgetary support).
Since 2015 the party has tried to organize around campaigning for workers’ rights and on axiomatic issues such as abortion. Its members have been prominent in the so-called “Black protests” against the tightening up of legislation on abortion. Despite these efforts, the party has not been able to boost its poll ratings which are currently below the level of support it secured at the 2015 election.
This petition shows two things. First of all that the “Together” Party is not fulfilling the great expectations some had for it after the 2015 election. Second, that issues such as a 35 hour week are not yet seen as being important or realistic by Poland’s electorate.
Many felt that the “Together” Party would replace the Democratic Left Alliance whom it helped to keep out of Poland’s Parliament, thanks to its surprise result in 2015. This has not happened. The Democratic Left Alliance vote has actually increased, according to the polls, as it continues to enlist support from some of the beneficiaries of communist rule.
“Together” has failed to reach a working class audience. Its membership is simply too middle class and too liberal on axiomatic issues to be a convincing voice for Polish coal miners, dock workers or even shop assistants.
The party has not won itself too many friends on the liberal left either. They liked its participation in pro-feminist and pro-equality demonstrations but did not take at all well the “Together” Party’s strong criticisms of the previous liberal government’s economic and social policies, nor of its reluctance to march with the liberal parties against the judicial reforms of the incumbent Law and Justice (PiS) party.
The 35 hour work week demand has not so far been made by Poland’s trades unions. They have not been at all sympathetic to the “Together” Party. Solidarity supports the ruling PiS and the OPZZ union tends to support the Democratic Left Alliance. This makes it that much harder for the new kids on the block to make any headway among organized labor. The new kid on the block needs to go back to the drawing board.