Polish regime expected to spell out revised union role
Poland's military regime faces a crucial test of its intentions toward the country's shattered trade union movement.Skip to next paragraph
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The expected publication of a paper concerning the ''rebirth'' of the movement will indicate what role, if any, the government will allow the suspended trade federations.
Government leaders have discussed this question since the first days of martial law. Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski has alluded to Solidarity itself, saying there will be a place in Poland for ''independent, self-governing'' trade unions when the crisis is over.
How independent or self-governing the unions may be, however, is a hotly argued issue between rival groups at the top of the Communist Party leadership. An authoritarian, dogmatic faction strongly opposes Solidarity's return in its former shape.
This group wants the unions back in their old place as a transmission belt for exercising strict party control and promoting party policies.
A disenchanted work force has returned to work -- but not the way it must for an economic recovery. It is waiting, one assumes, for something more specific than vague official assurances that ''all the (August 1980) reforms'' will be resumed.
Solidarity's leader, Lech Walesa, is still interned. Polish authorities have announced that almost a thousand dissidents face summary conviction for offenses such as continuing activities of suspended organizations and organizing strikes and related propaganda campaigns.
There is no clear picture of Walesa's position, apart from his earlier reported refusal to negotiate with the government unless at least some of his principal advisers join him and the Roman Catholic Church supports the conditions.
The government is evidently eager to get some contact restored. But it hasn't managed to do that yet, and the delay may have prompted the authorities to move ahead more rapidly with a detailed draft of their own ideas for new unions. The hope is that this will promote discussion and possibly win some public support for limited trade union rights, provided some basic principles -- such as the right to strike -- are retained.
But recently, official statements indicated that the power to strike is likely to remain suspended for at least one or two years more, even if martial law is lifted.
The party's conservative faction views the emergency as an ideal opportunity -- as the Army daily Zolnierz Wolnosci has openly said -- for an effective ''verification'' (i.e., purge) of all areas of public life, including the ''political enemy,'' Solidarity.
The government maintains that although Solidarity started as a union protecting of workers' interests, it developed into a radical opposition intended, ultimately, to challenge communist power itself.
General Jaruzelski and his more moderate and liberal associates use more conciliatory language. But they also make clear that the union's future will depend on its unequivocal acceptance of the party's dominant role as well as rejection of any political function.
The general warned that ''self-government'' must be based strictly on Poland's constitutional alignment with the Soviet alliance.
Throughout the emergency, the Catholic Church has continued to uphold Solidarity's right to exist. But it would not in all likelihood dispute the authorities' constitutional claims if dialogue between the regime and the union were to resume. But the government must also reckon with the fact that, although union extremists caused misgivings among many rank-and-file members, general support for Solidarity runs deep.
Recent discussions between foreign reporters and workers in the Baltic ports drew quick affirmatives that they wanted ''Solidarity revived and Walesa released.''
And: ''Perhaps Walesa had some bad advisers but we want him back -- and Solidarity as well.''
The government has pledged there will be no return to the ''pre-August'' union structure.
But the prickly question of the new unions' constitution and issues like the free election of leaders remain. These seem necessary for a political solution, which could improve the prospects for national conciliation and help to pull Poland out of its present economic impasse.