Corporatist Renaissance in Post‐communist Central Europe ?

Mitchell A. Orenstein and Lisa E. Hale

in The Politics of Labor in a Global Age

Published in print September 2001 | ISBN: 9780199241149
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191598920 | DOI:
 Corporatist Renaissance in Post‐communist Central Europe   ?

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While global trends have forced labour into retreat in most countries, in post‐communist Europe, the dramatic opening to world markets in 1989 was achieved through a political breakthrough in which organized labour played a major role. Whereas trade unions under communism acted as ‘transmission belts to the working class for state policy and ideology, post‐communist governments needed to develop new roles for resurgent trade unions in a democratic society. In Poland, the post‐communist government juggled a number of different objectives in the reformation of labour market institutions. On the one hand, democratic consolidation demanded that trade unions be constituted as independent social and political forces that would support the new regime. On the other hand, liberalization demanded that trade unions moderate their wage demands so as not to foster runaway inflation. In addition, since trade unions remained the only major civil society organization with significant roots in the working class, trade unions immediately became important partners in any new political coalition. Corporatism, as advocated by the International Labour Organization office in the region, provided a compelling answer to many of these demands. This chapter argues that in Poland, the need to institutionalize a role for trade unions in the emerging democratic society led to a genuinely corporatist forum for indicative negotiation over wages, and the development of progressive social policy. Popular disillusion with structural economic reforms led to corporatist ‘pacts’ negotiated, first, by Solidarity leaders, and then, by the former communists who came to power in 1993. Finally, in 1995, to initiate a Polish tripartite council for social bargaining, using a comparison between Poland and the Czech Republic, the chapter concludes that globalization has strengthened trade unions and the pressures for including them in new forms of corporatist intermediation in post‐communist Europe. While these institutions suffer many of the same problems evident in the developed West, corporatism has become part of the institutional framework of post‐communism and appears to be here to stay.

Keywords: civil society; corporatism; Czech Republic; economic reform; globalization; labour market; Poland; social policy; trade unions; working class

Chapter.  11599 words. 

Subjects: Comparative Politics

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