The mass pro-choice protests in Poland are growing. A march on Warsaw last Friday was 100,000-strong, according to organisers and the city council. People came from all over the country to demonstrate in the capital.
There were also big protests in other cities and towns on the same day.
Today’s movement is much bigger than in 2016 and 2018. Both times government attempts at harsher abortion bans were defeated. We are now seeing the biggest protest movement since demonstrations were legalised thirty years ago.
Last Wednesday the police, who routinely understate the figures, said 430,000 people had taken to the streets in 410 demonstrations since the start of the protests on 22 October.
The demonstrations are both festive and angry. People dance to a techno beat and the centuries old polonaise. Rappers insert, “Fuck PiS” into their lyrics.
There are thousands of homemade cardboard placards with slogans such as, “Revolution is a Woman” and, “I think, I feel, I decide”. Many are in English, especially puns such as, “PiS off” and, “Girls just want to have FUNdamental rights”.
Young people in their teens and twenties predominate. But the demonstrations are so big that they include significant numbers from every age group. Women lead, men support them.
The ultra conservative Law and Justice (PiS) government has been shaken. It has lost some 10 percent support in opinion polls since the protests began.
The constitutional tribunal decision on 22 October that sparked the protests forces pregnant women to carry seriously deformed foetuses to term.
Everybody knows that the ruling was ordered by PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski. Often called a brilliant strategist by political pundits, he has shown himself to be a dangerous fool. He had counted on the record numbers of Covid infections and deaths keeping people off the streets.
Protesters are far from being Covid deniers. They blame Kaczynski for forcing them out onto the streets. Now he is hated more than any other politician. Thousands have demonstrated outside his house several times.
The protests have even reached PiS supporting small towns. For example, in the northern town ofNowy Dwór Gdański, farmers in a long line of tractors supported a road blockade with the slogan “Fight the virus, not women”. And 1,000 people turned out in the southern town of Dobczyce, where PiS candidate Andrzej Duda got 67 percent of the vote in this summer's presidential elections. The town’s population is around 6,000!
The government does not know which way to turn.
On the one hand prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki is adopting a conciliatory tone, as is president Andrzej Duda. Their confused proposal to very slightly circumvent the tribunal decision has been universally rejected by the pro-choice side. Women want the decision annulled at the very least and increasing numbersare arguing for abortion on demand.
On the other hand, justice minister and public prosecutor general Zbigniew Ziobro has threatened protest organisers with eight-year prison terms. They have laughed off this intimidation.
Government ministers are trying to portray the protests as a movement dedicated to physically destroying the Catholic Church. Footage of slogans on church walls and last Sunday’s disruption of a few church services by small groups of women is shown on state TV.
In this way Kaczynski wants to create a backlash. He has called for his supporters to physically defend churches. This followed fascist Robert Bakiewicz’s announcement of the formation of a“National Guard” to protect churches. Bakiewicz is the main organiser of the annual fascist-led Independence Day march that takes place every year on 11 November.
But the backlash is not working. The huge demonstration in Warsaw last Friday marched past a well-known church which was protected by tens of fascists and hundreds of police and military police. Demonstrators walking past thought this was absurdly funny because they were defending a place nobody wanted to attack.
Piotr Duda, the leader of the pro-government Solidarity union federation, has disgracefully argued for his members and sympathisers to join the actions of this so-called National Guard. Calling for trade unionists to ally with fascists is an outrage. ThankfullyDuda is completely at odds with rank and file Solidarity members, many of whom must today be taking part in the women's protests as individuals.
On Friday fascists were chased away twice from the pro-choice demonstration after they had thrown missiles at the crowd. They are not a danger to the demonstrations themselves, but some people have been attacked on the fringes of the protests or on their way home.
Slogans against the extreme right can be heard on all the major protests. In the run-up to 11 November, the pro-choice movement has created even more anti-fascists.
Last Monday protesters throughout the country successfully blocked roads during the evening rush hour. This will be repeated this week.
A strike day was called for last Wednesday by the National Women’s Strike protest organisers. Under pressure from students, teachers and lecturers, rectors and directors shut some schools and colleges and called off video teaching. Individuals also decided to take days off work.
Although there were no mass strikes, the focus on the workplace has pushed unions to issue statements supporting the women’s protests.
Unions that have done this include one of the two biggest federations, the OPZZ, and the biggest union in the country, the ZNP. This organises teachers, lecturers and other workers in schools and colleges.
The “August 80” union, whose greatest strength is among miners, issued a statement supporting the protests and offering free legal aid for anyone facing repression. Other unions expressing support include the Oil and Gas Workers and the ZZPD, another miners’ union which featured the lightning bolt symbol of the protests on its logo.
This support is important and needs to be turned into real strikes. This is a realistic proposition. The movement now has very deep roots. People are coming out from working class housing estates to join in the demonstrations. Young people pull in their mums and dads.
There is a mood of radicalisation and revolt all over the country. It may well spill over into other areas.