Why Polish workers dine on potato pancakes

Cecylia Cegielski is a textile worker and the only breadwinner for a big family. Her day, which starts at 4 a.m. and ends around midnight, is probably typical of working women in Poland.

Mrs. Cegielski is what is called a roller at the 1905 Revolution linen mill at Zyrardow, a small town near here. She recently recounted her daily schedule for a reporter from the weekly Przeglad Techniczny.

''I jump out of bed soon after four. I make breakfast for the five kids. (Mine is a one-parent family.) I clean up and then I dress them. I leave for the mill at 20 minutes before six.

''After work, after 2 p.m., I join the queues. If I buy nothing, I have potatoes at home, so I make potato pancakes for the children's supper.

''Then I darn and do the housework. I put the kids to bed and go to sleep myself around midnight.''

The reporter asked if she had an ''organized'' holiday (a vacation subsidized in part by factory funds) this year.

''Theoretically, yes,'' Mrs. Cegielska said. ''The old union awarded me a holiday, only I had no money to pay (her part) for it, nor anyone to take care of the children.''

''Don't you complain?'' she was asked. ''Who to?'' she responded. ''The boss is a good man. It's not his fault. He eats potato pancakes, too. . . .''

What if you complained? ''I would be ashamed to,'' she said. ''There are other women here worse off than I am.'' She said she was looking forward to ''a better tomorrow.''

What would that be like, the reporter asked.

Her idea of ''tomorrow'' was simple: ''Maybe returning from work, I shall get yeast. If I do, I shall bake rolls in the evening - I've already organized the flour.''

Przeglad Techniczny is nominally the paper of the scientific society for organization and management, but it is widely read outside its specialist fields.

In fact, quite a few weeklies here are trying to widen their readership by focusing on sensitive questions like workers' pay. Their mission is helped by journalists who came to the weeklies after failing ''verification'' tests under martial law or who simply chose to leave the more politically oriented papers. Some of the weeklies have opted for sensational headlines.

The press latitude brought about by the now-banned Solidarity in 1980 has not been completely extinguished. In the economic sphere, at least, press comment remains relatively free, particularly on this year's drastic consumer price increases, which have forced most housewives to pinch and scrape to stretch a zloty.

Moreover, there has been open criticism of the minister associated with the new price policy, largely because of his attitude toward its effects on poorer households.

Last year, on a round of household visits, Prof. Zdzislaw Krasinski, the chairman of the price commission, hazarded an assurance that family living standards would not fall because of economic reforms.

This summer he had to eat his words when he revisited a family of five. Their income - with increased child allowances and pay adjustments for the new prices - had doubled from about 8,000 to 16,000 zlotys a month (about $90 to $180). But their monthly food bill had soared to a minimum of 20,000 zlotys - with no provision for household or consumer durables.

The weekly Przekroj, one of the few publications that still enjoys wide distribution, quoted the minister as saying he disliked the ''model of high consumption'' and describing his own modest life style. ''This quality of life is composed of so many nonmaterial elements,'' he was reported as saying.

Another weekly, the Krakow Zycie Literackie, raised its eyebrows at further statements about his own household expenses and his car which, after 3 1/2 years , still had done only 13,000 kilometers.

It chided him for putting himself in the position of the average Polish consumer, ''which he is not.'' His car's low mileage, it opined, was due to his use of a ministry car, and the gas and electricity bills he cited were so low as to suggest he had neither television, refrigerator, or other normal household items.

''Can a Polish minister's flat be so poorly equipped?'' the paper asked ironically.

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