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Most Polish workers 'wait and see' before signing up with free unions

While the free trade union movement awaits legal approval of its charter, the battle for support between the old government-controlled unions and the new independent ones continues.

Despite assurances by regime leaders that they will make good on their reforms for free trade unions, the independent unions remain doubtful. They are suspicious of efforts to shore up the old unions in such a way as to make them as credible as the independent unions.

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In what seems very much like a process of trying to "steal the emperor's clothes" the existing organizations are moving to adapt to the new "self-governing and independent" unions. To distinguish them from the new ones, the official unions are being styled, rather euphemistically, as "reformed" unions.

Their basic affiliation, however, remains to the government. So the leaders of the new Solidarity union movement regard the socalled renewal of the existing unions as mere name changing.

It is understandable that the regime would not want to see its old unions swept out of existence. Moreover, any assumption that this is about to happen is premature.

The Solidarity group of some 30 founding committees, and other independence organizations, claim now to represent up to 3 million workers. Solidarity's request for registration is under study by the Warsaw Warsaw court. The other independent groups are waiting for the ruling on the Solidarity unions before presenting their own applications.

Yet the total labor force, virtually entirely enrolled previously in the official Central Council of unions, is around 12 million. The majority attitude is still to "wait and see" the outcome of events.

One major reason why workers may be holding back from registering with the new unions could be the failure to give the new movement a fair share of publicity in the official news media.

The Sept. 24 trip to Warsaw by Gdansk leaders to register their new unions and their subsequent talk with Vice-Premier Mieczyslaw Jagielski about implementation of the strike settlements was given scanty media treatment.

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The lively press conference given by Solidarity's chairman, Lech Walesa, went unmentioned, even though more than 100 enthusiastic Polish reporters attended.

On this occasion, Mr. Walesa called on the government to stand by its word on media coverage for the new unions. He said also he and his colleagues would go around the country campaigning for greater productivity, but not before there was an agreed framework for cooperation.

Failure to meet either of these issues, he warned, could easily mean further strikes.

Trybuna Ludu on Sept. 27 offered some reassurance by quoting Lenin back to the Russians in an apparent answer to a Pravda assertion a few days before that he had laid down that unions must operate under "direct leadership from the party."

Trybuna Ludu said that according to Lenin the unions' main task was to "defend the interests of the working masses in the most direct and literal meaning of the word," which, taken at its literal value, is precisely what the new unions want to do.

A start has been made, meanwhile, with other reforms -- increased incomes, price cotrols, the regular weekly Mass by radio Sunday mornings, and cleanup of corruption.

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