Relations between Strajk Kobiet and Poland’s main political parties

Photo by Jakub Chlebda on Unsplash

In late 2020 – early 2021 Poland experienced a major wave of protests organized by the All-Polish Women’s Strike (Strajk Kobiet) social movement. These were triggered by the decision of the Constitutional Tribunal to consider unconstitutional termination of pregnancy due to severe impairment of the fetus. The 2020 protests were likely the largest demonstrations in Poland’s post-communist history. To understand better if and how the movement advanced in the realization of its vision I explored the Strajk Kobiet relations with Poland’s major political parties.

Jack Goldstone suggested that political parties are likely to watch closely a large-scale social movement as they pursue own electoral calculations, but also benefit from including the movement’s messages in their political agendas. At the same time, the mode of relationship between parties and the contentious movement would depend on the opposition status of the party, as Daniel Schlozman has found. The opposition parties would likely support an anti-regime movement, and the protesters would partner with them to promote own issues onto the policy agenda. The incumbent party would likely discredit, disrupt or altogether ignore the movement and face a mirror response from the activists.

To systematically map and analyze the movement-party interactions in Poland I used the reports by Polityka weekly magazine for October 2020-February 2021. Inside these articles, I was looking for mentions of movement-party interaction. I further categorized these mentions using an overarching typology of movement-party relations suggested by Mildred Schwartz.

According to Schwartz’s logic, movement-party interactions may be placed along a dimension that ranges from strategies that aim at closeness to those that preserve distance. By moving closer to political parties, social movements have a chance of influencing policy, while keeping at distance they preserve own distinct identity. For parties, closeness offers potential attachment to timely issues of concern to their electorate, while distance separates them from unpopular cases. Strategies on the closeness-distance continuum range from coordinated interaction (for example, alliances, merges), through invasive strategies (such as insurgency, displacement, cooptation), to hostile actions (like disruption, discrediting, purges). I modified the scheme by adding a category, “Buffering”, to include strategies of complete distancing.

Analysis of Polityka reports on Strajk Kobiet suggests that relations between the movement and major political parties in Poland had been predominantly hostile. 67% of the coded fragments were about hostile movement-party interaction, followed by 14% that reflected buffering strategies and further 9% of reports focused on invasive interactions. Alliance building in the case of the 2020 Strak Kobiet mobilization was only a marginal strategy. A split of the coded fragments into those pertaining to incumbent PiS and those characterizing the Strajk Kobiet relations with the opposition further demonstrated the domination of hostile strategies for both groups of parties (84% of all coded fragments for incumbent and 45% for opposition parties), as Figure below suggests. 

Shares of total coded fragments on party-movement interaction, per party group

My analysis has only partially confirmed the initial hypotheses. The study of media accounts suggests that relations between the Strajk Kobiet and major political parties in Poland, both incumbent and opposition, had been predominately hostile. In a trade-off between potential policy influence and identity preservation, Strajk Kobiet prioritized the latter. Opposition parties were certainly tempted to engage with a large-scale movement that mobilized activists around the country. However, given the cold reception by the Strajk Kobiet, and also various controversies associated with the movement, its rhetoric and strategies, the opposition chose to keep a distance.

These preliminary findings should be treated with caution. The study design has multiple limitations to be overcome in a future extended version of this research.

This is a preliminary analysis prepared for the 18th Polish Sociological Congress. Please do not cite, share or otherwise distribute. This research was funded by the National Science Centre, Poland (UMO-2021/40/C/HS6/00229).

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