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Shaping the Economic Landscapes of Postsocialism? Labour, Workplace and Community in Nowa Huta, Poland

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For years, the countries of east central Europe and the former Soviet Union were described as workers' states. The formal commitment of the governing parties to the construction of states run by workers for workers was reflected materially and ideologically in the landscape. The end of communism in 1989 brought new challenges for workers and workers' organisations in the region as the processes of transformation led these countries towards neoliberal and globalising economic and political systems. This paper explores these transformations in the case of Nowa Huta in southern Poland, mapping the role of workers in the shaping of economic landscapes. After considering the importance of labour in the construction of Nowa Huta, the paper considers the place of workers and workers' organisations, especially Solidarity, in shaping political and economic issues at both the local and national scale as socialism in Poland began to falter. The latter half of the paper explores the role of labour in shaping the experience of reforms after 1989. This discussion is set in the context not only of wider literatures on postsocialist transformations, but also of the growing body of work in labour geography. The paper argues that the particular development of labour movements and institutions in Poland presents opportunities for a community-based renaissance of worker influence, but that other historical and political factors—such as union support for marketisation and the divided nature of Polish labour politics—have, in practice, hindered the ability of Polish labour to shape the economic landscapes of postsocialism. The paper concludes on a note of optimism, recognising that the faltering of the Polish economy might open spaces for a successful labour intervention.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies, University of Newcastle, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK;, Email:

Publication date: 2003-09-01

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