Washington — Despite US State Department concern, America's largest labor organization is raising funds for Polish workers. The AFL-CIO also has sent a $50,000 printing press to Solidarity, the free Polish trade union.
"What they were putting out was mimeographed," says Tom Kahn, assistant to the president of the AFL-CIO. "It was practically illegible."
But US Secretary of State Edmund S. Muskie is concerned that such actions will be provocative to the Soviets, and he has told them the US government does not support the AFL-CIO position. He expressed his concern at a luncheon meeting several weeks ago with Lane Kirkland, president of the AFL-CIO. The official Soviet news media attacked Mr. Kirkland by name and denounced his organization as antisocialist.
An official Polish newspaper also attacked Kirkland, charging that the AFL-CIO was interfering in Poland's internal affairs.
Mr. Kahn said the AFL-CIO has collected $150,000 so far in its fund-raising campaign, although none apparently has been sent so far.
"I think we will raise a good deal more, and we will keep it up until the Poles have no further need," said Kahn.
The AFL-CIO officer said money was being collected at factory gates and in offices around the United States. The campaign is being coordinated with the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions and was triggered by requests from Solidarity. Kahn described the State Department's attitude as "pusillanimous."
"The notion that the Soviet Union would invade Poland because the AFL-CIO gave a printing press to the Polish workers shows the analytical level to which the State Department has fallen," he said.
Kahn said some fofeign affairs specialists had suggested to the AFL-CIO that it provide its support to the Poles in a more discreet, or even clandestine, way. But he said the AFL-CIO wanted to be completely "above board."
"Did anyone think that, having received an appeal from the Polish workers, we would turn our backs on them and say 'no?'" Kahn asked. "That would amount to telling the Polish workers they should submit to tyranny."
At the same time, he declared that the AFL-CIO has carefully refrained from commenting on the political aspects of the situation. The organization rejected production of a proposed poster that made a reference to the link between democracy and free trade unions. It was felt the poster had political overtones.
The United Automobile Workers (UAW) also has contributed funds to the Polish workers through the International Metal Workers Federation.
But UAW President Douglas Fraser said last August that it was a sensitive issue.His organization hesitated to talk about what it had done, he said, because "We didn't want the communist hierarchy to say, 'Well, this is really not a workers' revolt. This is an imperialistic, capitalistic plot.' So whatever we did, we did it on a low-key basis."