In the mid-1980s, official trade unions had almost 4.4
million members, or about 96 percent of all persons living
wages and salaries. The growth of trade unions was mainly
a postWorld War II phenomenon; before the war, unions had a
membership of only about 100,000 (mostly crafts people).
the communist takeover, the unions were supervised by the
National Council of Trade Unions (Szakszervezetek Orszagos
Tanacsa--SZOT), elected by a national congress. SZOT had
officially recognized unions, organized by industrial
Trade unions theoretically had great powers, but they
traditionally had made little use of them. For example,
a legal right to veto decisions made by the government
the workers. In practice, the unions' historic inability
strike made this authority meaningless. The government
overall policy concerning work requirements and wages.
Most dayto -day decisions about hiring and firing were made by the
management staffs of enterprises and collective farms.
have great influence in the use of the social and cultural
of enterprises and in industrial safety issues. Trade
controlled the administration of health care and holiday
However, in the 1980s subsidies from the central
these purposes were diminishing, so that maintaining even
existing level of services and amenities was difficult.
In 1985, in a move to increase its appeal to the
youth, SZOT set up its own organization to represent young
people, separate from the Communist Youth League. This
organization was the first, other than the Communist Youth
itself, to officially represent young people. According to
authorities, the Communist Youth League was to remain the
political mass organization for youth, while the trade
youth would focus on issues of the workplace, social and
programs, and other traditional concerns of trade unions.
union members under thirty years of age could be members
unions' new youth sections.
In the late 1980s, Western analysts detected a
easing of restrictions on trade union activity in general.
official unions became increasingly outspoken, criticizing
practices as the requirement for overtime work and other
austerity measures. In public discussions, both critics
representatives openly admitted that the unions as
inspired little confidence in workers. In 1988 the press
reporting some brief strikes among workers in officially
recognized unions, revealing that the outcomes of the
been favorable to the workers. At the same time, some
professionals and blue-collar workers made efforts to form
independent unions that were not subordinate to SZOT. In
1988, the Democratic Union of Scientific Workers, the
independent trade union established in Eastern Europe
Poland's Solidarity, was founded. Social scientists at
institutes of the Academy of Sciences, the country's
research organization, were the first members of the new
The union's program included a call for the end of
against professionals based on their political views.
researchers and teachers from other institutions soon
raising the number of members to more than 4,000 by
1988. Several smaller unions also came into existence.
the membership of such independent organizations appeared
limited to white-collar workers. The success of these
attempts was uncertain, but after initial hostility from
authorities, the groups were permitted to function.
Data as of September 1989