Solidarity: Labor's Love Lost
THE romance with Solidarity, which still has a first-love ardor in the West, has cooled considerably in Poland. Solidarity leader Lech Walesa is aware of the change. His office is getting phone calls calling him a traitor and saying he should be hanged. The sense of betrayal is great among people who thought they were electing a party in the Jesse Jackson mode and find it closer to Jesse Helms. A Solidarity deputy to Parliament, Jan Litynski, answered with a Republican faith in private charity when asked how people were going to get through the economic crisis.
In the Gdansk shipyards, where Solidarity began, the feelings are especially bitter. For 23-year-old Leszek Rykowski, Mr. Walesa is a man who made a good career off the workers and got rich. Solidarity ``was good when it was illegal,'' he said. ``Now it does nothing for us.''
The young worker's anger was directed to the Faustian bargain Solidarity made, giving up striking in exchange for being made a legal union. Now Solidarity leaders try to stop the spontaneous strikes by counseling patience.
The direction Solidarity is taking is upsetting to its own activists, especially those coming out of the social democratic tradition. They consider themselves keepers of Solidarity's compassionate values. They have watched unhappily as Solidarity's philosophy and most of the Cabinet posts have been taken over by free marketers and Christian Democrats.
Leszek Budrewicz, a leader in Solidarity's Wroclaw union council, believes he is facing a choice of suicides: He can oppose his government's policies and risk destroying it; or he can elect not to oppose those policies and risk destroying his union and workers. ``We will support this government as long as we possibly can,'' he said. ``Then we will oppose it.''
Rysard Bugay, a Solidarity deputy and an economist, also has difficulty with the government's economic plan. ``I am not opposed to its free-market goals, but to its pacing and harshness. We must balance economic efficiency with democratic and human needs.'' He will work to reshape the plan. If that fails, he will have to make a choice that was not necessary in the past between Solidarity and his political conscience.
The government's plan would immediately free all prices in a country where each product is produced by a monopoly that has people by the purse strings. Controls would come off housing, sending prices into orbit in a society where there is a 15-year wait for a flat. All attempts at indexing wages would be eliminated. With inflation expected to reach 900 percent by the end of the year, the safety net would be very small. It would be available only to people who earned half of the already unlivable August average wage.
Four and a half million out of 39 million people would receive some assistance with food, housing, and heating, and would have access to food canteens. ``It is a bizarre twist that Solidarity, which started out fighting for workers' rights and dignity, ended up supporting a policy of soup kitchens,'' said Pietr Ikonowicz, a member of PPSDR, a minuscule socialist party that is Solidarity's only functioning opposition.
The shock many people feel about their Solidarity government's not representing or responding to them is not shared by sociologist Jadwiga Staniszki. She had no illusions. ``What is happening in Poland,'' she said, ``is a revolution of the elites in Solidarity and the Communist Party. Like most revolutions from the top, it is being done in the name of a particular vision. This time it is privatization instead of Marxism. This kind of revolution sees society as an obstacle to its vision, and seeks to demobilize it.''
Joanne Malinowski, a bookkeeper, came intuitively to the same conclusion. She fears a loss of civil rights as the economic situation gets worse and popular discontent grows. That she can imagine Solidarity turning into an authoritarian government is a measure of how quickly public attitudes toward it have changed. It shows how drastically different things are from the time when its name stood for the solidarity of the strong with the weak.