Poland: 'Whose side are we on, anyway?'

It is no coincidence, as they say in Moscow, that Edward Gierek has been replaced by Stanislaw Kania, a quintessential party apparatchik who has hitherto set policy for the security forces and kept a wary eye on the powerful Polish Catholic Church. Hailed by Mr. Brezhnev as a champion of the "leading role" of the communist party, First Secretary Kania appears to have promised to observe the agreements with Lech Walesa's Interfactory Strike Committee and with the other strikers in Szczecin and Upper Silesia, provided the new, independent trade unions "stand on the ground of socialism." But the Polish Parliament is controlled by the communists and there is no independent judiciary. So the party will decide whether the Independent Self-Governing Unions meet that condition.

Since "socialism" in Poland is defined to mean the party's monopoly of all political and economic power, I very much fear that Mr. Kania and his team will interpret the agreements with the workers as restrictively as possible, working ultimately to annul the historic gains made at the end of the "Polish August" and in the first days of September 1980. If that should happen, the party will risk a recurrence of the strikes which have just ended, and the workers, embittered by yet another betrayal and by promises broken for the fourth time since 1956, may no longer display the remarkable self- discipline they showed this summer in Lublin, Gdansk, Szczecin, and Upper Silesia.

Can the West influence the Polish regime in the direction of honoring the agreements? And what should Western trade unions do in answer to Mr. Walesa's appeal for financial assistance?

For the past ten years, Mr. Gierek kept Poland afloat by borrowing over $20 billion in the West and Japan, as well as the equivalent of more than $1.4 billion in the Soviet Union. Last week, a Polish financial delegation visited Washington to talk about obtaining another $670 million in Commodity Credit Corporation guarantees for fiscal year 1981, which would enable Poland to buy American feed grains, tobacco, and other agricultural products. Poland must also continue to seek substantial new hard-currency credits in order to continue its de facto, unavowed roll-over of the huge amounts due this year to Western and Japanese creditors.

Presumably, these new credits will be used by the Kania regime, as the old ones were by the Gierek group, "as a substitute for reforms," in the words of Prof. Zbigniew Fallenbuchl, writing in the congressional Joint Economic Committee's 1977 report, "Eastern European Economies Post-Helsinki." It is too much to expect Mr. Kania, who represents the entrenched party-government bureaucracy, to undertake fundamental reforms, such as those strongly urged last May in Warsaw by the group of activist establishment intellectuals who called themselves Experience and the Future.

The most important means available to us in the West to help keep the Polish regime honest is to wait before further credits are extended until we can see the texts of the legislation and regulations required to turn the agreements in principle with the workers into governmental policy. Even more important, we need to observe carefully the actions of the authorities, and especially of the bodies over which Mr. Kania has exercised party oversight, with respect to the leaders of the new trade unions.

So far, no provision has been made for financing the new unions. Dues are now automatically checked off workers' wages and paid into the coffers of the discredited official trade-union structure. The regime should transfer to the new unions the dues of those workers who choose to join. Will it do this? We must wait to see.

Polish workers won the unprecedented gains of August- September despite the opinions of many "qualified Western observers" that the Soviets and their Polish communist allies "would never permit" the formation of independent unions. The workers and their leaders knew something those "Western observers" didn't. Now, the latter -- including Secretary of State Muskie -- need to ask themselves who is better qualified to judge what is best for the Independent Self-Governing Unions, Lech Walesa and his colleagues in Poland or people reading reports in offices many miles removed from Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk?

Western trade unionists should support the Polish workers in a completely open and aboveboard fashion. Article 23 (4) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides: "Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests." Western trade-union leaders should report the amount and recipient of each contribution to the United Nations Human Rights Commission as a step in support of this provision and other relevant human-rights and International Labor Organization conventions.

Western governments should keep out of these transactions between free trade unions. Nor should they hasten to provide further subsidies to the communist leadership of Poland. Let us wait first to see how Mr. Kania and his colleagues honor their obligations to the workers and what steps they intend to take to reform the Polish economy.

Whose side are we on, anyway?

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