Privatization in Poland

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POLAND has taken another necessary, if risky, step toward capitalism. Parliamentary approval of a bill to privatize state-owned industry takes a wrecking ball to the old communist economic structure - but it also reinforces new concerns. As Poland's creaking heavy industries are sold off, beginning with those enterprises or parts of enterprises most likely to turn a profit, how many layoffs can be expected, adding to the country's already growing unemployment? Joblessness now approaches 600,000 and is forecast to double by year's end. The government has meager resources to devote to social services for those without jobs; retraining programs are just beginning to take shape.

Also in short supply are people to manage newly private companies. The old party-appointed overseers are on hand, but most lack any feel for on-site decisionmaking after years of following government directives. Beyond that, they are unpopular with workers and the general public. No one wants to see the old guard prosper under the new order.

The few Poles with experience in running private firms are likely to be quickly recruited, and find their new responsibilities daunting. The saga of Zygmunt Borek was described in a recent New York Times article. His move from running a 62-employee company to managing 28,000 at the Nowa Huta steel works illustrates the difficulties. Yet Mr. Borek is clearly committed to transforming one of Poland's industrial ``dinosaurs,'' and he has the confidence of his workers. A committee of workers, after all, selected him.

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Confidence could itself become a precious commodity in the months ahead. Critics of Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki say not enough is being done to give the Poles a clearer vision of what lies beyond current hardships.

That's a fair complaint. The policy critiques being made by Lech Walesa, among others, could lead to new parties and a clarification of issues, options, and goals. That might even help smooth the way for momentous steps like privatization.

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