Fishing for solutions to Krakow's shortages

A trucking company here recently sent some of its workers to fish in the local lakes and ponds . . . for tires.

They came up with no fewer than 1,000. Many of them, it was reported, could be fitted to vehicles right away. Others needed to be retreaded.

No explanation was offered as to why tires in such good condition had been dumped. But the story illustrates the chronic shortage of spare parts for all kinds of vehicles in Poland. It also shows how some ingenious managers get around their difficulties.

So acute are the shortages that, according to another local story, buses were bought and cannibalized for spare parts because it was the cheapest way to get a larger number of vehicles back into service.

Economic activity in this southern capital and its province is in the same perilous plight as elsewhere in Poland.

Another paradox is found in the work force: The authorities assert that 20, 000 jobs are going begging while only 500 persons register for employment; at the same time, overemployment is rampant and must be curtailed if economic reform is ever to be effective.

Last year, a Solidarity official from the Nowa Huta steelmill here visited a US plant of comparable size in Baltimore. He returned to report that its output was the same as Nowa Huta's - with half the work force.

Other production industries are slowed by shortages of raw materials. The best that Krakow's Communist Party secretary, Krystyn Dabrowa, could say in a Monitor interview was that more and more enterprises are ''working not worse than last year.''

''Some are working better but still not at a level we can be satisfied with. Not because they don't want to work but because they don't have the materials.''

US sanctions dealt a blow to one of the most lucrative sectors of the province's economy. ''Our chicken farming lived on American feed. It has been completely destroyed by sanctions,'' Mr. Dabrowa says. ''Those huge chicken farms that were so significant an element in our food balance simply do not exist.''

Krakow is suffering not only from shortages common to the whole country, but also from the long-ignored assault of industrial pollution - notably from Nowa Huta - on its environment.

A public fund has been launched for restoration. But under present conditions it can't come close to raising the vast sums of money needed.

To a frequent visitor, innumerable beautiful churches and other ancient buildings show the effects of the smog that often hangs over the city. With each visit they appear darker.

The infrastructure was virtually ignored by the misguided investment policies of the last two decades. Water, gas, electricity, and other utilities are all antiquated and woefully inadequate.

For the city's 700,000 consumers, the food supply is sufficient in current meager Polish terms. But there is an appalling lag in everyday needs, ranging from clothes to household essentials and even flooring for new apartments. ''Whole blocks stand unoccupied,'' Dabrowa says, ''for lack of flooring materials or heating accessories.''

The two stalls in the historic market hall doing the briskest business said it all. Selling shoes made by peasants, each had 30 to 40 women clustered around it continuously.

Prices ranged from 600 zlotys to 2,400 (about $7 to $27.75) for high heels which is more than one-quarter of the monthly average wage. The women were buying the cheaper shoes, not just because of price but because they were also more practical.

''Why don't the state factories produce more 'sensible' shoes for women?'' my companion asks. ''They have to do so much walking and standing. For high heels, if they can afford them at all, they will always go to a private shoemaker.''

Like every other urban center in Poland, Krakow has its restless youth. Mr. Dabrowa, who is in his early 40s, acknowledges the justification, for example, of student bitterness over travel bans or the impatience of couples facing a 10 -year wait for an apartment.

''They tell us, 'You, the older generation, are responsible for the crisis. We are not guilty, yet we must accept the greater hardships.' ''

Youth, Dabrowa says, pinned high hopes on the August 1980 reform program. He concedes that the authorities have not convinced them they intend to continue with reform.

''Our problem,'' he says with candor, ''is that young people don't believe in promises. We have to convince them with facts and that, in Poland's present situation, is a tremendous task.''

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