Polish unions

VICE-PRESIDENT George Bush steps into the middle of the continuing struggle for human rights when he visits Poland later this week. Mr. Bush should let it be known that while the United States recognizes Warsaw's need for economic reform and modernization, such progress cannot come at the expense of meeting the most fundamental right of mankind: human freedom. Calls for just that were heard over the weekend at one of Poland's most revered sites, the Jasna Gora monastery, when thousands of Poles heard a Polish bishop issue a stirring plea for free and independent trade unions. Government unions - designed to thwart the appeal of the outlawed Solidarity trade union movement - are resisted by many Poles.

Union leader Lech Walesa, who was at the weekend rally, will presumably meet with Bush. Mr. Walesa is under new pressure from militant unionists who want to reactivate Solidarity's national council, despite the likely displeasure of Warsaw. Caution is called for. Poland needs a period of calm to rebuild its troubled economy. At the same time, the desire for liberty cannot be forever squelched. Public order and a larger granting of rights to workers, including the right to form trade unions, are not mutually incompatible.

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