Industrial City Hit Hard by Reforms

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

LODZ, a textile and light-industries center in central Poland, is one of the cities hardest hit by economic reform. ``I wish there were something good to tell you,'' says City Councilor Iwona Sledzinska-Katarasinska, who is also editor of the local newspaper Gazeta Lodzska.

Her office is on the city's main artery, Piotrokowska Street, a long avenue of elaborate turn-of-the-century buildings now crumbling because of neglect.

``Probably it's the ugliest main street in Poland,'' she says. ``This has been a very poor town for years, a town in which everyone in the family has to work because the main industry - light industry - has the second to last place in salary levels.''

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The current recession, she says, has hit light industries and textiles particularly hard: When earnings are cut, these are among the first goods to be cut from the family budget. Not only that, the Soviet market, once the city's biggest European market, ``has collapsed.''

Some factories have closed down, some have slashed production by 50 percent. Those still operating are using equipment which in some cases dates back to the 19th century.

More than 30,000 people have so far lost their jobs, giving the city an unemployment rate of 7 to 10 percent.

Women laborers, traditionally a mainstay of the textile mills, have been particularly hard hit.

And, Ms. Sledzinska-Katarasinska says, because of living and working conditions, the infant mortality rate is the highest in the country.

``The situation deepens the apathy process and leads to a situation where people only care for their own affairs,'' she says. ``People may start believing populist slogans and that there will be some miraculous solutions.''

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