Solidarity call to East-bloc workers puts Kania on spot
It was largely a rhetorical gesture. But, for the Polish government, it is the most embarrassing thing that the Solidarity union could have done -- to call openly on other East-bloc workers to follow the Polish example.
Certainly it is far more embarrassing for the struggling Kania regime than the Solidarity convention's threatened intransigence over workers' self-management. And it may also prove more awkward even than Solidarity's Thursday resolution demanding free elections.
What is so distributing to the communist government here is that for the first time Solidarity has aimed its sights directly at the other workers of Eastern Europe. Solidarity, in effect, has laid itself open to a charge of setting out to "export" its own image as a free and independent union and as a force in an East-bloc country's political affairs.
The Warsaw government might have preferred to let it pass with little notice. But angry East-bloc reactions -- from Moscow to Prague and East Berlin -- made it imperative for it to react, and strongly.
Solidarity, it said sharply, should concentrate its attention on affairs at home and not try to meddle in the world around Poland. Solidarity's action, it was said, could bring harm not only to relations with the other countries of the communist world -- these are already complicated by this country's lag in its trade obligations -- but also to the whole of Poland.
So far there has been little evidence to show that the strike movement that produced Solidarity a year ago has produced "free" trade union agitation in the other East-bloc countries.
An exception has been Romania, where a Workers' Free Union announed itself in early 1979. But it drew instant reprisals from the regime, and some of its founders were imprisoned.
(The UN-affiliated International Labor Organization is currently studying a file of 16 documented cases of victimization prepared by a team from the World Confederation of Labor, which visited Romania earlier this year.)
Still Solidarity's words encouraging other East-bloc workers to follow its example could produce an echo across its borders, particularly in a neighboring country like Czechoslovakia, which has a trade union tradition as long as Poland's and a movement that strongly supported reform in 1968.
The Polish leadership must be hoping that more moderate counsels in the union will prevail to ensure the "provocation" is not repeated in the final documents of the Solidarity congress when it reconvenes for its second, decisive stage Sept. 26.
Further talks between the government and the union over self-management should be possible before the congress resumes.
The government draft represents, without doubt, a marked advance for the workers councils, which have been an empty name for 20 years or so.
The party leadership has made clear it will not relinquish its final voice in the naming of directors to industrial-economic enterprises.
Solidarity has threatened that its members will not take part in the appointment procedures stipulated in the government bill. The bill provides for the election of directors by the mixed "founding bodies" that are to be attached to each enterprise. Candidates are to be put forward by a "competition committee," which is to include representatives of both the unions and the Communist Party.
Undoubtedly the party will still have a powerful voice, but it will no longer be unchallengeable. As these proposals now stand, they do go about three-quarters of the way to what independent unions have finally won in Yugoslavia.
The first phase of Solidarity's congress may, however, have been a necessary letting off of steam. And the dramatic note sounded by some of the militant speechmakers may have been intended more than anything to demonstrate the union's determination to have its say on more than union affairs.
Even though moderates like Mr. Walesa, the national chairman, deny seeking a political role for Solidarity, the indepent unio cannot really avoid politics.
In a communist system everything -- the economy, culture, the news media (and censorship), the unions, and all social affairs -- is political.
Solidarity's militant "expert intelligensia" was itself pushed by the impatience of the rank and file floor delegates who wanted less politics and more real down to earth discussion of what should be done to improve the workers' lot.
Moderates realize the union is extremely limited in what it can do to improve the economy unless the nation gets down to work.