Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

Poles edgy over the end of Solidarity

First reactions by many rank-and-file Polish workers to the official end of the Solidarity union are sure to be hostile - at best highly suspicious.

Pending legislation, expected to be passed in the Communist Party-controlled parliament by Oct. 10, initiates new unions and bans the once 10 million-strong Solidarity and other trade unions, including the ones formerly controlled by the party.

About these ads

The new unions are to be low-level - restricted to individual enterprises or factories, shipyards, mines, and so on - while purportedly ''self-governing and independent'' of direct government control if they stay within prescribed legal statutes.

The main thrust clearly is to prevent the reappearance of a national movement , such as Solidarity was last year, in opposition to or even questioning the ruling political power and its party.

Emotions could run high in weeks ahead, but in essence the union bill does little that was not foreseen when martial law was imposed 10 months ago and Solidarity suspended. It pays legal deference to the 1980 agreements with Solidarity on independence. And the government claims that it constitutes a ''starting point.'' National union structures generally are deferred for three years.

The question is whether on reflection (with or without demonstrations), workers see the law as at least an improvement on the wholly discredited communist rubber-stamp unions that existed before August 1980, and as opportunity for some genuine involvement in management and affairs generally.

Workers seem likely to decide for themselves whether to boycott the unions, rather than being led by the handful of former Solidarity leaders now operating underground.

In any event, if they do join, Solidarity members - call them ''former'' or not - will form the bulk of the new unions' membership. At a Szczecin construction enterprise last month, for instance, this reporter found 90 percent of its work force owning to ''Solidarity,'' including 25 of 30 members of a new ''self-management'' council.

Peasant farmers - like the armed forces, defense industries, police and prison services - are not included in the new union structure. The new unions' role is defined mainly in terms of bread-and-butter issues. But pledges are made for full consultation in government decisions relevant to living standards overall.

About these ads

The union obligation to endorse Poland's ''socialist'' Constitution, its bloc alliances, and the Communist Party's decisive political role was part of the 1980 strike settlements.

The new law will put teeth into methods to prevent future unions from straying without suffering instant delegalization and dissolution. It precludes outside, or non-worker, links and advisers like those blamed for Solidarity's radical politicization last year.

Strikes or any other kinds of ''industrial action'' are ruled out in any dispute the government may deem contrary to national interest. They are allowed as a ''final recourse'' after exhaustion of arbitration that can reach as high as the supreme court.

Poland's problems go deeper than just the unions. To many Poles, the government led by Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski appears to be expending more energy on peripheral issues than on the most serious problems.

Few Poles one encounters take seriously the vociferous current campaigns against ''parasites,'' speculation, or the dissident groups Independent Poland and the intellectuals' Workers Defense Committee. The government program is not convincing enough to win any broad public cooperation.

Looming over everything is the economy. Reforms are applied in an uneven and often half-hearted manner. A sponsor of the reforms recently said they still have ''decisive opponents among the decisionmakers.''

A small economic upturn is claimed, but whether this can be maintained or improved on is going to depend on how the government honors the letter as well as the spirit of ''independence'' in its new union pattern.

And, still more, the economy will depend on whether workers can be persuaded to give the new union law a trial run.

The Roman Catholic Church has professed concern that public feeling may again erupt onto the streets. But in some quarters the primate of Poland, Archbishop Jozef Glemp, is thought to have overdramatized such fears by postponing a pending visit to the Vatican and later to the United States.

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.