In Gdansk, Polish workers are cautious but defiant
(Page 2 of 2)
The unions. After Solidarity was banned, the government formed new ``independent'' unions, giving them the right to self-government and the right to strike -- but the latter applied only after an extensive arbitration procedure had been exhausted.Skip to next paragraph
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Henryk Koscielski was elected chairman of the Shipyard Trade Association. He had been a member of Solidarity -- and the Communist Party.
``Solidarity was good until it became political,'' Mr. Koscielski explains at his office in a small new building placed against the shipyard gate. ``We stick to concrete work problems.''
The new association helps workers find apartments. It offers them cheap vacations. It arranges training courses. Koscielski says such perks have convinced 4,500 of the yard's 12,000 workers to join, most of them former members of Solidarity like him.
That leaves about two-thirds of the workers without representation.
``The new unions act like shipyard social sections,'' Zygmunt explains. ``We need an organization that really supports the worker, a free union.''
So what do Zygmunt and his friends have left to believe in?
The Roman Catholic Church. Specifically, St. Brigitta's Church, a modest red brick structure, located just a few blocks from the shipyard entrance. Here banners hung from the rafters proclaim a different message.
One reads, ``Shipyard workers faithful to the ideals of August.'' Another calls for ``Solidarity of hope through faith and love toward victory.''
At St. Brigitta's, the Rev. Henryk Jankowski preaches. Lech Walesa prays. Dissident leaders meet openly to attend mass -- and to discuss politics.
``The church's role is to support human rights, working people's rights,'' Fr. Jankowski says. ``Working people don't feel like they can participate in governing.''
At his modest apartment in a huge housing project on the outskirts of town, Walesa echoes that message. General Jaruzelski treats him ``as if we don't exist,'' he says. But Walesa says that eventually the general will have to compromise with the people. That means negotiations.
``All wars end at the table,'' he says.
The problem is how to force the government to talk. Walesa favors wearing the government down by slowly building up mass support. As the economy provokes discontent, the government will need an agreement.
But the former Solidarity leader sees a danger in his own ranks. Some of his supporters, he says, want to call strikes and mass protests, even if that leads to violence.
At the shipyard, for example, Piotr, a young worker, asserts, ``Force is the only way to end the communist terror.'' His friends Miroslaw and Adam explain that they speak as ``believing Catholics.''
Walesa also speaks as a believing Catholic. He wears a badge with a picture of the Virgin Mary as he explains that the opposition does not now have sufficient strength to provoke a show of force.
Older workers such as Zygmunt are patient. When he joined the shipyard 33 years ago, Zygmunt says, he believed his work ``would lead to something.'' Today, he earns 24,000 zlotys a month -- $160 at the official exchange rate, $40 on the black market -- and that includes 60 hours of overtime.
``All I have is an apartment, some furniture, a wife, and children,'' he says. ``I have no savings.''
He is cautious about another work action because of what he calls ``the unpleasant consequences'' of past demonstrations, but he says he might dare once again ``if the situation is right.''
Never, he explains, will he let the government trick him. At that moment, he spies another banner ahead of him. It reads, ``Better work improves productivity.''
He laughs. ``That's like saying bread is made of flour.''