Poles mum on the future of unions
The strike movement that created the first independent labor union in Poland began two years ago this weekend.Skip to next paragraph
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Although Solidarity and the reform process that grew from it remain suspended under martial law, the workers, and the nation at large, have not forgotten them.
For more than six months officials have been talking about the government's proposals for the ''future of the trade union movement.'' Yet the most relevant questions are unresolved, and agreement with the workers is no nearer.
Government spokesmen have stated time and again what the new unions will not be allowed to be, but they have been virtually silent on what they may be and how they will be constituted.
Official reports attribute that to behind-the-scenes conflict among three groups:
* Hard-liners, who want Solidarity dissolved and eliminated from future consideration. (The government knows that disaster lies that way.)
* Those urging Solidarity's revival under a charter that unequivocally acknowledges the Poland's ''socialist'' Constitution and alliance with the Soviet Union and precludes any political role for the union.
* Those who advocate deferring consideration of the union problem for at least two years while -- it is hoped -- the country regains its economic equilibrium.
The government claims that opinion taking among blue-collar workers this year (i.e., under martial law) shows 90 percent in favor of new unions consistent with the political demands of the Constitution. If this is true, one wonders why it does not try to proceed on the basis of the second option.
Vice-Premier Mieczyslaw Rakowski told parliament recently: ''We are far from total condemnation of Solidarity. It was born from the real needs of the working people.''
It all sounds good, but the official approach to any revival of the union remains highly ambivalent. Mr. Rakowski, for example, conceded that Solidarity's share in the discussions of the past six months bore no relation to the union's vast membership.
It would be difficult for it to be otherwise. All but a handful of the union's national and regional leaders were interned last December, as were all but 100 or so of its local officials. No one of significance has yet been released from detention.
Talking to Polish journalists at the weekend, Mr. Rakow-ski seemed to imply some ultimate renewal of all unions, Solidarity included. But it would be as a trade union, he said, ''not a social movement,'' and shorn of its ''antisocialist leaders and advisers.'' But ''we should not be in too big a hurry,'' he said.
Mr. Rakowski, in fact, had earlier informed parliament of the creation of a new ''social coordinating commission to prepare conditions for rebirth of the union movement.''
''Yet another!'' ironically commented a Polish acquaintance who, like many others here, thinks six months of discussion should have been enough, had it been more genuinely ''open.''
There is a similar official ambivalence about the future of Lech Walesa. Mr. Rakowski was the government's negotiator with him all last year. The two have not been in contact since. ''But I know,'' Rakowski asserts, ''that today he has a different point of view and admits that the union was 'used.' I have though heard many such disavowals and avowals from Walesa before. He is inconsistent.''
The government's real concern -- Walesa's undiminished popularity -- seems implicit in the specious suggestion that the main motive behind his continuing custody is his personal security. ''If some idiot tried to shoot him, the whole world would hold the government responsible,'' Rakowski told the journalists.
That is an improbable pretext. And Poles are likely to go on holding the government responsible for everything anyway as long as martial law and present hardships remain.
A majority would probably settle with relief for a new Solidarity union that observed the Constitution but had some independence and -- along with the rest of society -- had a voice and a role in democratic decisionmaking, even if it is measurably less than the heady promises of two years ago.
If the anniversary period passes without incident, the government might overcome its present fears of grasping ''that nettle, danger'' which Solidarity, its following, and Mr. Walesa obviously still represent before it becomes even more intractable.