By Chris Mularczyk
Rafał Trzaskowski, Warsaw mayor and Civic Platform (PO) presidential candidate who lost to President Duda, launched his long-promised movement at the weekend. The movement will be called “United Poland”. “New Solidarity” which was originally tipped to be the name of the movement is to be used as the name for a union of self-employed people.
Mr Trzaskowski’s initiative had been announced just a few days after the second round of the presidential election in July. He promised to launch a movement that could bring together the 10 million people who voted for him in the second round of that election.
The original launch was to be in early September, but that was put on hold for two reasons. First of all Mr Trzaskowski faced a crisis in Warsaw as a result of the failure of the sewage works causing a major sewage spill into the Vistula. Second, it was not clear what the relationship between the Civic Platform, of which Mr Trzaskowski is the deputy leader, and the new movement would be.
Some advised Mr Trzaskowski to delay the launch of the movement still further because of the second wave of the pandemic. But Mr Trzaskowski and his allies felt that the launch could no longer be delayed, despite scepticism from senior opposition figures such as Donald Tusk over whether it was a good idea.
The online launch event featured an address by Mr Trzaskowski, followed by recorded contributions from mayors of major cities who pledged to bring Poland together. Clearly it is a movement which is starting in highly urbanised areas, reflective of where Mr Trzaskowski’s support came from during the election.
Mr Trzaskowski said at the launch that the movement is to prepare for the parliamentary elections in three years' time so that a united opposition list could win them. However, he did not say how the movement could unite the Civic Platform with its possible allies such as the “Poland 2050” movement of the independent candidate Szymon Hołownia, the Left or the Polish People’s Party (PSL).
It was no surprise that as an opposition politician he used the occasion to attack the present government, especially over the handling of the second wave of the pandemic. He criticised the government for underspending on health, the shortages of flu vaccine and attitude towards medical staff. He also called for the government not to grant money to public media but to give it to the health service instead, a repeat of the line he took during the election campaign, and for children aged 5-8 to be educated from home during the pandemic.
Warsaw’s mayor called for the creation of a union, New Solidarity, which would work on behalf of the self-employed. There are over a million such people on the labour market and they have no holiday rights, sick pay or pensions, asserted Henryka Krzywonos MP. She also claimed that the Solidarity trades union is currently pro-government and is failing to work for many who are in work but who are not in the state sector or large industry.
In fact the self-employed have to pay social insurance therefore they are able to benefit from both social insurance and pension rights. The problem is the level of these benefits and the fact that in many cases the self-employed are effectively working for one employer and should be on that employer’s payroll rather than being forced to self-employ. But of course the numbers include self-employed people driving taxis, working as hairdressers and also highly paid specialists.
More questions than answers
There will be those who will say ‘better late than never’ for the formation of Mr Trzaskowski’s movement. But Mr Trzaskowski’s attempt to build on his own popularity from the presidential election comes several months after Szymon Hołownia has launched such a movement and a new political party to represent it.
In the case of Mr Trzaskowski’s initiative it is far less clear what this movement is to be. Will it be a civil society organisation such as a foundation or an association? Will it be in competition to the Civic Platform? Will it try to put together an alternative list of candidates, dominated by local government representatives, for the parliamentary elections? What will be the role of the “New Solidarity” union in the movement? Will local governments or NGOs join it or will membership be purely on an individual basis? We already have a Trzaskowski Foundation and an association of local governments which have both pledged to be part of the movement but there is no clear structure for how the movement will function.
Much will depend on Mr Trzaskowski and his local government allies. But the Civic Platform with its organisation, funding and parliamentary representation will not allow itself to be ignored. Despite internal problems the party remains Poland’s largest opposition force and has recently bounced back in the polls as a result of the concern caused by the second wave of the pandemic. Much may have to change for things to remain the same.