Poland offers specific, limited economic reforms
Poland has come up with some specific reforms designed to put the ailing economy back on its feet. While the proposed reforms represent something of a break-through for Poland, they still fall short of those already in operation in Hungary, which have been the inspiration for much Polish economic thinking.
Polish workers will be given a much small er role in decisionmaking, for instance, than they had been granted by the workers' councils established in 1956 in Poland's first major crisis in labor relations. Those early councils were quickly nulified by party controls. Subsequent efforts to revise them failed. There clearly is no official will at the moment to bring them back.
But the workers and their new unions have become such a decisive force in Polish politics that. in the final draft, direct grass-roots participation will have to be enlarged.
The new measures call for more flexible self-management for industrial enterprises, with room for initiative at the top and for workers. There will be shorter shrift in the future for nonprofitable firms which thus far have been kept afloat by subsidies.
These are central themes in draft proposals for reform of Poland's creaking economic system, which is in its worst situation since World War II.
The draft is the work of a committee of government and labor experts set up as part of the agreements that brought the summer strikes to a close.
The new independent unions are strongly represented by leading workers and their own advisers, along with directors and economists from major industries and enterprises. Official representation includes "liberal" economists and sociologists purged under the previous administration and now back in party and government leadership.
The proposals are part of a three-year package. Planning this year is limited to setting basic guidelines and reducing restraints on enterprise activity. Thereafter, enterprises will be allowed progressively more independence in planning, determining their own production lines and levels. At present, it is only loosely said that workers will have a voice in enterprise affairs in general and in top management appointments. They may not nominate or even, as in Hungary, have a distinct consultative role or power of veto in an impopular appointment.
The government's main concern is profitability, which is not surprising. One of the draft's chief provisos is aimed at the worst faults in the economy. These include:
*Shockingly low productivity and costly overconsumption of energy, raw materials, and labor per production unit.
*Wasted, unfinished investments piling up in recent years to abort and idle gigantic financial resources including those in key sectors of machine tools and industrial manufacturing.
The proposal is to allot each individual enterprise a fund according to its production targets. From this it must pay wages and purchase its own raw materials. The intent is to make management cut down on overstaffing and economize on materials.
Central government is to set the essential national economic strategy and overall coefficients. Enterprises will be expected to adjust more to the market. Those that ultimately fail to show a profit will face reorganization or closure.
The reform, however, is still tentative. Its final form will be determined by a party congress to be held in two months. Between now and then, however, the political crisis has to be resolved first.
This is the point strongly made in a third penetrating analysis elaborated by the secalled "Experience and the Future" group of party and nonparty "liberal" economists and politicos working for the past two years on studies and solutions for all aspects of the Polish crisis.
Its latest report sees the new situation as an "enormous chance" for reform. But it warns of the continued opposition to change of large segments of the party apparatus and other "vested interest" groups, hostile both to economic reform and the concept of bringing the new unions into such co-responsibliity.
It is these who largely are the cause of outbreaks of new unrest and agitation such as those currently in southern Poland and thus thwarting a climate of trust between the workers and a new leadership itself committed to "renewal" without which reform, economic or otherwise, simply cannot go ahead.