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Polish printers' strike: the issue is media censorship

A year ago few Poles would have worried about a two-day stoppage in their daily papers. But this week's nationwide printers' strike was another matter. Since last August, early morning queues have been common at street kiosks and newsstands in city hotels. Newspapers struggling against rising prices for newsprint have been hard put to print enough papers to meet demand.

The strike deprived Warsaw of all but extremely limited runs of the two main Communist Party dailies Aug. 19 and 20. Local papers were printed in only a few provincial capitals.

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Solidarity claims the official party press is conducting an unfair campaign against it. It complains that it has not been able to tell its side of the story about recent negotiations with the regime over the food crisis and workers' self-management. Each side blamed the other when the talks broke down. Ironically, over the past year the Polish news media have become more lively, informative, and accessible to differing opinion than at any other time since a "liberal" spell in 1956.

But since the 1980 strike settlement committed Poland's new party leadership to far-reaching reforms, censorship has been relaxed and the new independent union granted access to the mass media. Solidarity has its own national weekly, Solidarnosc, which sells 500,000 copies and is the biggest weekly in the country.

Some 70 percent of Poland's printworkers joined the strike, and the small editions of Trybuna Ludu and the Army's Zolnierz Wolnosci that did appear were put together by party personnel.To that extent, the strike was a success.

It seems clear that the union took up the strike weapon primarily to press its standing claim that it should have regular radio and television time and that its programs should be prepared and broadcast without outside censorship.

The government has offered weekly time on both radio and television, but Solidarity is holding out for immunity from censorship. Some of its spokesmen also demand that radio and television be placed under "social" control, which is a euphemism for the full workers' self-management the union wants in every branch and enterprise of the economy.

Undoubtedly, the approach of Solidarity's first national congress and its internal rivalries figure in the current militancy. At next month's congress the moderates will be making an all-out effort to bring the union "of age" and back to the program on which it was founded.

National chairman Lech Walesa spelled it out in writing of the union's tasks in the Aug. 7 issue of Solidarnosc:

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"We were born as a social movement in struggle. We do not struggle, however, to take over political power because we are not and shall not be a political party.

"We are not looking for confrontation with the authorities but for dialogue and negotiation. . . . But the dialogue must be an honest one . . . nothing about us without us."

The official reaction to the printers' action was extraordinarily mild, suggesting the government -- like most ordinary Poles -- is aware that Mr. Walesa's survival at the head of Solidarity is in the national interest.

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