East bloc assails UN labor agency as Poland threatens to quit

Will the Soviet Union and its East European allies decide, as Poland did, to withdraw from the International Labor Organization? Officials at this United Nations agency hope not. But they see it as a possibility.

The Polish government announced its plans to withdraw in mid-November after the ILO's governing council accepted the report of an independent commission of inquiry condemning the Polish government for violating the rights of labor.

The commission found that Poland violated two ILO conventions it had signed, one providing for freedom of association and the other, collective bargaining and the right to organize.

In June 1981, Lech Walesa, leader of the Polish trade union Solidarity, received a tumultuous welcome at the yearly general assembly of the ILO. Delegates crowded around Mr. Walesa to shake his hand.

Half a year later, the Polish government imposed martial law and banned Solidarity, jailing some of its leaders.

Withdrawal of the entire Soviet bloc would be a financial blow to the ILO, which was established in 1919. Soviet-bloc nations together contribute 19 percent of the budget.

More important, officials note, Soviet-bloc withdrawal would end the universality of the organization.

The United States withdrew from the ILO in 1977 and returned in 1980. One of the reasons it left was the feeling that the ILO was imbalanced in its review of labor questions between West and East, ignoring the state control of trade unions in communist countries.

The Polish case has prompted a strong reaction in the Soviet bloc. The complaint was filed in June 1982 by a delegate representing a Roman Catholic trade union in France and another delegate from a Norwegian union.

Soon after the investigation began, the Polish government ceased participating in ILO activities and stopped paying dues. It refused to have anything to do with the investigation. As a result, one ILO official admitted, the report is one-sided in that it includes no testimony or evidence from Polish government officials.

Under ILO rules, the Polish withdrawal will take effect in two years. But because it hasn't paid dues, it will lose its voting privilege next year.

Some other members of the Soviet bloc have not paid 1984 ILO fees, but have until the end of the year to do so - if they so choose.

Because communist nations proclaim themselves to be worker states, ILO charges of violation of international labor codes are particularly unwelcome.

''It must be very damaging to them, or they wouldn't be reacting this way,'' one person here noted.

Indeed, some here suspect Poland got marching orders from Moscow on how to react to the ILO inquiry.

If trade unions are truly free and able to stand up to communist governments, it was pointed out, the East-bloc regimes ''would be starting down a slippery slope indeed.''

Communist officials maintain that the ILO should recognize their different system of government, which, they say, is a government of the workers. ILO officials respond that workers' rights are workers' rights anywhere, and that the inquiry followed due process.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.