Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

Solidarity: out in the open, fighting to become legal. Polish union seeks path between confrontation and compromise

It was Solidarity's most dramatic reunion in seven years. As about 5,000 supporters cheered during a mass Sunday, representatives of the banned independent trade union, along with the country's most respected intellectuals, gathered around Lech Walesa here at St. Brygida Church. Not long ago, Mr. Walesa and his cohorts would have met either clandestinely or in near anonymity.

Now, following a wave of strikes and a breakthrough meeting between Walesa and Interior Minister Gen. Czeslaw Kiszczak, Solidarity once again is out in the open and center-stage. Network crews and the foreign press were back staking out the union leaders. At union meetings Saturday, no police were visible, and at the Sunday Mass, the police kept a respectful distance.

About these ads

Sunday's occasion signaled a rebuilding of the long-dormant local union structures, as delegates from the new ``strike committee'' joined the debate. Sometime this week, Walesa and four other trade union representatives hope to meet with government officials to begin roundtable negotiations on making Solidarity legal again.

``We are rebuilding the union,'' says a chief adviser, Bronislaw Geremek. ``For the first time since 1981, our national committee has been joined by local committees.''

But behind this triumphalism lurks much skepticism.

``We can't expect a paradise like in 1980,'' says a member of the Gdansk strike committee. ``We can only hope to win back a little bit of what we achieved then.''

Solidarity student activists question the compromises made to end the strikes. At his first meeting with General Kiszczak on Aug. 31, Walesa won no promises on relegalizing Solidarity, and government statements since seem to have ruled out any national structure for a revived independent trade union.

``We don't want any half-solutions,'' warns student activist Adam Zadworny. ``We felt strong at the end of the strikes, and all of a sudden, we were told to give up.''

Aggressive government actions have added to mistrust. Since the end of the labor unrest, several hundred strike leaders have been fired, while younger activists suddenly have been inducted into the Army.

About these ads

``I have some friends, who received a visit at 4:00 a.m. from Army officers with draft cards,'' says Andrzej Sosnowski, a student leader from Gdansk. ``Many young people feel they are using the offer of talks as a trump card - something you play when you need and take away when you don't.''

Union leaders realize the dangers. A weekend communiqu'e said they would not meet officials unless ``the state authorities stop repression.'' They also insisted that the officials ``make an open and clear expression of their desire for an agreement which will confirm Solidarity's identity.'' Their demand represents a hardening stance: Government spokesman Jerzy Urban is under pressure to send some sort of positive signal at his weekly news conference tomorrow.

``We aren't saying that the government must legalize Solidarity before we talk,'' Mr. Geremek told the Monitor, but ``that the government must consider the issue of union pluralism as problem No. 1 on the agenda.''

The union strategy is to strike a compromise under which Solidarity would be reborn first at a local level. It would then run within the 1982 trade union law which strictly limits the right to strike.

Its bet is that the government, driven by economic failure, will recognize that it needs Walesa over the long term to put through austerity measures and economic reform. The Solidarity leader is indispensable, union leaders argue. His authority was enough to overcome resistance and persuade strikers to end their occupation of mines and factories.

``You have to be optimistic,'' says Mariusz Kaminski, a union activist from Warsaw. ``Walesa's charisma still is there, he still has authority ... and the government needs him.''

But the risks are enormous. The union says it is 100 percent behind Walesa's decision to enter into talks with Kiszczak. But he cannot come away empty-handed without suffering deep damage to his authority.

``Walesa's special link with the people could be broken, '' says an activist from the Silesian mining district.

Confrontation or compromise - Solidarity will continue to take a path somewhere between the two extremes. Bogdan Lis, a savvy member of the union's national committee, sees recent events as ``a step further,'' not ``a final victory or defeat'' for Solidarity.

``I foresee some sort of partial agreement,'' he says. ``We need it, Poland needs it. But eventually, there is no other solution than a total overhaul.''

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