Catholic Workers Association

Poland: A Test for Glasnost

Solidarity is back. That was the message from Poland this spring. For seven years after the December 1981 imposition of martial law, Poland's independent labor movement survived as a clandestine organization. And despite its low public profile, it survived as the symbol of Polish society's material, democratic, and nationalistic aspirations. It has continued to represent what Poles call "the civil society" in its confrontation with an oppressive and unpopular state.

In 1987 Solidarity began to emerge from the underground and work openly to challenge the state-controlled unions at the shop-floor level. Last November Solidarity called upon Poles to boycott a referendum on economic reform. The boycott resulted in the first electoral defeat ever acknowledged by a Communist state and confirmed Solidarity's prestige in Polish society.

This spring Solidarity was again at the forefront of world attention with a wave of strikes around the country demanding wage increases and relegalization of the independent labor movement. As it was when Solidarity was born eight years ago this month, the Lenin Shipyard at Gdansk was at the forefront of the struggle this spring, and once again Solidarity leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Lech Walesa was in the occupied shipyard hatching strategy and raising spirits.

The news reports had an aura of deja vu. But a lot has changed in eight years. This time the band of workers occupying the Lenin Shipyard was much smaller and mostly very young. In 1980 the Polish authorities were afraid to use force against the strikers. This spring riot police and a so-called anti-terrorism unit recaptured a Krakow steel plant with clubs and percussion grenades.

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