Poland's new unions: a return to 'normalcy' in Poland

So-called free and independent trade unions are back in Poland. Autonomous of the communist party and of management, they now have the right to strike. Thanks to the new trade union law passed by the Parliament and sponsored by General Jaruzelski, the path toward normalization of economic, social, and political life in Poland has been cleared.

Unfortunately, ''normalization'' implies not the lifting of martial law but its return to civilian life.

All unions in existence as of the effective date of the new law were abolished. After Dec. 31, 1982, new unions may be formed in individual plants or factories by workers willing to submit a draft charter to the labor court acknowledging respect for the Polish Constitution, state property, the socialist system, international alliances, and the leading role of the party.

The 60,000 tiny unions which may be thus formed will be allowed to join forces in federations by trade or industry in 1984. The year 1985 may see a single national confederation of these unions. It was just such a single confederation of trade and industry unions, being inadequate to protect workers' rights, that led to the foundation of Solidarity in August 1980.

To guarantee Solidarity's disbandment, the new law provides that each new union must name itself for its geographic location and trade or industrial affiliation. Only then can it register and gain official recognition. This identity control is a device to divide and conquer, making that identification and protection of workers' interests which is Solidarity's strength all but impossible.

Expectedly, the new unions are allowed only to look out for the material welfare of their members, but must eschew any even vaguely political activity - such as promoting workers' interest in a communist state. Accordingly, the new unions have the right to strike, provided they can find a cause other than wages or the government's economic policy. Political and sympathy strikes are of course banned by the Oct. 9 legislation.

But all is not lost. Should cause be found, after giving seven days notice and maneuvering through long and complex arbitration proceedings before the Polish labor courts, some trade and industry unions may call a strike. But barred from exercising the right altogether are: teachers, bank and hospital employees, workers involved in the agricultural and food distribution sectors, utility company workers, oil and gas pipeline workers, radio and television employees, firemen, the judiciary, defense and public sector employees, and international transport workers. The national legislature may expand this group to include the entire population during times of economic crisis, suspending the right to strike altogether for so long as it deems necessary.

Lest all these safeguards be insufficient, the Polish authorities reserve the right to cancel the registration of any union ''which engages in any activities deemed contrary to the interest of the Polish People's Republic, which supports such activities, and aids or abets such activities, or establishes or maintains contacts with Polish or international organizations acting contrary to the interests of the Polish People's Republic.'' (This proviso effectively rules out Polish membership in any international labor union.) Moreover, the labor courts are empowered to deregister any trade union which does not strictly abide by the terms of its charter.

The labor courts have the right to force the new trade unions to change their elected officials. However, the law does not specify who will have the final say in drawing up the short list of candidates for union office, nor does it describe how elections are to be held. Precise details of how the new unions are to operate will be inked in later, presumably by the Council of Ministers. Fines and prison sentences will be levied against anyone found guilty of violating the trade union law.

Unions will be allowed to resume publication of newspapers and journals, but under censorship. Access to radio and television will be allowed but only ''to present trade union problems on the basis of generally accepted principles.''

Having thus established a framework for the ''free and independent trade unions'' as of Dec. 31, 1982, Jaruzelski may well be preparing for a return to civilian rule. The provisions of martial law would in that event be replaced by special powers given to the government. The only role left to the unions will be as institutions to communicate state and party decisions affecting the material well-being of workers.

In this manner, ''normalization'' will mean a return to the situation prior to August 1980 - that of strict communist orthodoxy.

Clausewitz said that war is the continuation of policies pursued in peace time by other means. Jaruzelski has taken him one step further. Peace, for Jaruzelski, is the continuation of policies pursued in war.

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