Polish farmers jubilant: union OK'd

The Bydgoszcz farmers were home for Easter, heartened by victory and a government pledge of legislation by May 10 to allow registration of their union.

Up to 100 of them had maintained a sit-in occupation of the local headquarters of the Peasant Party -- one of the coalition groups in the communist majority Sejm (parliament) -- since March 16.

The farmers protested the regime's refusal to allow them a union with full legal and independent status like Solidarity.

After a nightlong session ending in the early hours of April 17, they signed an agreement with a government negotiator that guarantees that a new trade union law, together with an amendment authorizing Rural Solidarity, will be legislated early next month. It was a significant U-turn by the party leadership. Earlier it barred a farmers' trade union as a strongly Catholic potential political movement, which, it feared, could build up into an opposition like the powerful prewar Peasant Party.

In a steadily worsening food situation, however -- in a country which depends on 3 million private peasant farmers for three-quarters of its food -- the government finally realized it had no alternative but to give them what they wanted.

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