Solidarity's Reform Image Falls to Pieces

LIKE President Lech Walesa, the Solidarity trade union movement he once led has emerged as a fickle force for reform.

Solidarity - the movement that brought down the communist system - now frequently opposes market reform initiatives of the current government, a coalition of parties with communist roots. Last April, for example, Solidarity crippled Polish industry with strikes aimed at lifting state wage controls. The government argued wage controls were needed to keep inflation down.

Solidarity's switch

To understand Solidarity's apparent about-face from reform vanguard to hesitant free-market supporter, one should consider what started the movement in 1980, says Krzysztof Sliwinski, a former Solidarity spokesman.

``Solidarity became a powerful expression of a social movement, and in a communist society, a social movement is a politicalmovement,'' he says. ``The question of market economics wasn't discussed. It was more a question of freedom.''

But after bringing down communism, people quickly found that freedom and free markets aren't always synonymous with social justice.

``Until independence there's only one objective: Independence,'' Mr. Sliwinski says. ``It was only after, when you realize there are deep strategic differences.... This is why some Solidarity activists say today that social justice is more important than market efficiency.''

Though they didn't see it at first, the legions of industrial workers who formed the core of Solidarity stood to lose the most from their efforts.

Embittering experience

Market reforms meant inefficient industries would close, leading to lost jobs. The experience has embittered many.

``We got the freedom we fought for: We don't have innocent people being arrested now,'' says Teresa Maciejewska, a store clerk and Solidarity member from suburban Warsaw.

``As for the economy, it's not what I imagined. It's something I know Poland must go through, but I notice people like me are becoming poorer and poorer,'' she says. ``I don't know how much longer I can stand the price increases.''

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