1990s >> 1990 >> no-1026-february-1990

Solidarity governs in Poland

What is happening in Poland?

What sort of policies are coming from the Solidarity-led government? What are the prospects for the workers? And can it really be possible that the “vanguard” party—the privileged elite—could have really given up their power and privilege, voluntarily?

Over the New Year steep price rises were announced and meat disappeared from the cities’ markets. No police were to be seen in Warsaw: even during New Year’s Eve festivities in the centre, where thousands of people, many very drunk, celebrated noisily. Some say the police, unpopular and demoralised, are afraid to be seen on the streets. Many have left the force, some setting up in business as private detectives and security guards. Their clients are mostly rich people: “despite appearances. there are more and more wealthy people in Poland” (Warsaw Voice, 31 December-7 January).

With the move towards a market economy and private enterprise there are pickings to be had for the rich, and for Western capitalists. Lech Walesa has been begging Western businesses to set up shop in Poland, and the Economist reminds its readers that, like Portugal. Poland pays very low wages. Why is this? After all, isn’t Solidarity supposed to be a trade union, representing workers interests. and doesn’t it control the government?

Experts Hi-Jack Solidarity

Almost from the start Solidarity was dominated by so-called “experts”. At its birth in Gdansk, in August 1980. when the workers’ representatives wanted to demand the abolition of censorship and free elections, a representative of KOR (a group of intellectuals sympathetic to the workers) was the only one to plead for them to be reasonable. That man is now Prime Minister Mazowiecki.

As a result of the advice of such people, the Gdansk Agreement and later policy documents of Solidarity were mealy-mouthed, meekly accepting the status quo. avoiding any challenge to the “leading role of the Party”:

These new unions . . . will be established on the basis of . . . the socialist system which exists in Poland today. They will recognise the leading role of the PUWP in the state and will not oppose the existing system of international alliances. (Gdansk Agreement)

The workers’ delegates were furious at this acknowledgement of the Party’s “leading role”, which had not been discussed with them. “From that moment on. they wanted to throw all the experts out of the shipyard”, wrote an eyewitness. Jadwiga Staniszkis.

The Gdansk Agreement also urged workers “to show greater work discipline in co-operation with the management of the factories and enterprises”, and “to work towards the increase of output’. Later. in its Draft Statutes (31 August 1980), Solidarity’s aims are defined as to attempt to bring the workers’ interests into harmony with the functioning of the enterprise”.

This is the language of the Church, very influential with the leaders of the movement. Lech Walesa is on record as saying that he wouldn’t trust himself to be a leader “if it were not for the influence of God” (BBC TV. 12 July 1981).

For the record, previous workers demands had been less humble and had insisted on free elections. Just before the Gdansk Agreement, at another shipyard occupation strike in Szczeczin. an agreement was reached which had nothing in it about the “leading role of the Party”. But in Szczeczin no “experts” were allowed to hijack the workers’ negotiations.

These “experts”, like Mazowiecki, Michnik, Kuron and others of the KOR faction are now elected members of the Polish parliament, the Sejm, endorsed by Solidarity. However, last summers “free” and democratic elections were something of a fraud. Within a few weeks of the announcement of the election, Citizens’ Committees (note: not workers’ committees) sprang up and produced nominations: academics, writers, actors, film directors, names of all sorts, including KOR activists. Endorsed by Lech Walesa in the name of Solidarity—but without any process of consultation with the membership—these Solidarity candidates all got elected in the one-third of the seats open to them.

The election meant that the old PUWP. and its allies, held most of the seats but wherever there had been a choice, voters had shown their preference for Solidarity candidates. Jaruzelski chose to opt for a coalition, a form of power-sharing. Mazowiecki became Prime Minister and Kuron Minister of Labour while his side retained the key ministries of Defence, Internal Affairs, Transport and External Economic Relations. In short, the PUWP retained control over the armed forces and the police.

Consensus on Economic Reforms

The policies of the Mazowiecki government include the old classics of economic reform: ending food subsidies, increasing productivity, and introducing some form of “market economy”. This is in line with the policy decided at the 1981 Solidarity Congress. and not very different from those which the PUWP were then advocating. As Marxism Today commented at the time. “Solidarity’s reform proposals for economic decentralisation and the introduction of market mechanisms only diverge in degree from those of the Party and the government” (January 1982).

The continuity in policies is really quite striking. In July 1980. the then PUWP leader. Gierek, said that “rises in the standard of living have to be earned”. The solution to Poland’s economic crises, then and now, is to make the workers work harder and earn less.

Today, with inflation running at from 100 per cent to 500 per cent, workers’ pay rises are not allowed to be above 80 per cent of the rise in the cost of living. So, even if they can obtain a rise, their earnings are cut by 20 per cent. If enterprises pay more, they are attacked with punitive taxation, even bankrupted. Kuron, as Minister of Labour, wants to limit the right to strike. His plan is for strike organisers to “be charged with paying the costs of strikes, a ban on political strikes and strikes concerning collective agreements that had previously been signed by the union”(Warsaw Voice). Incidentally, he appears on TV on Tuesday nights with helpful hints. Like his idea for solving the problem of poverty by opening an SOS bank account for people to send money to for distribution to the needy (a scheme which flopped due to objections from the Polish National Bank).

Under Solidarity rule, conditions for workers are not better than under Gierek in 1980, with shortages of basic essentials, high rates of accidents (in the mines, one death for every 500,000 tonnes of coal), the need to work weekends to supplement low wages, and so on.

Looking back, it seems that a consensus was reached in 1980-1 on plans for economic reform. These would include “marketisation”, profit maximisation, ending the nomenklatura system, and some form of “workers’ self-management”. Already in 1980. Jerzy Urban of the PUWP wrote of the need to do a deal with the trade unions: “to find a place for the new trade unions in the whole system of government in Poland” (Polityka, November 1980).

Jaruzelski’s strategy was to incorporate Solidarity as a partner in a coalition government. A similar policy was urged by the Church, always favouring national unity and “harmony”. The result is that the PUWP does not have to carry the can for the unpleasant, harsh effects for workers of these “reforms”. In fact the situation is one of role reversal. Once the workers’ movement, Solidarity is now attacking workers’ living standards, forcing real wages down, and limiting their right to strike. And the PUWP and the old “official” unions are in opposition, protesting against price rises and objecting to Kuron’s plans to limit the right to strike.

Enfranchisement of the Nomenklatura

So far the working class have not benefited from government policies. Who is benefiting? Quite a few members of the old elite, the nomenklatura of apparatchiks and managers, are busy feathering their own nests, setting up companies and acquiring business assets. Perfectly legal but decidedly unscrupulous activities are going on, according to the Warsaw Voice (31 December-7 January) in an article headed Watch Out, Thieves!’:

A new process called the “enfranchisement of the nomenklatura” began deep within the Polish economy. Beneficiaries of the previous system used their positions to secure their own financial futures by setting up companies which claimed state properly.

This began with buying up cars and property belonging to state offices and enterprises but “the extent of this destructive procedure is wider than had been believed”.

Soon, when a scheme has been worked out for privatising industry, who do you think will have money to spare to buy shares and become legal capitalists? Not the working class, obviously. Effectively the “vanguard’’ will re-establish its control of the means of production in a different form, no longer mediated through state ownership.

The Church will preach to the workers about the need for harmony. And Solidarity’s activists will urge that their members be “responsible in their demands . . .  We as activists will ask our people here to understand and support the government of Mazowiecki”, in the words of Edward Folcik, the Solidarity shop steward at a Wroclaw factory.

On a visit to Poland over the New Year I heard much that reminded me of the period, in the 1970s, when a Labour government arranged a deal with the TUC, a “social contract”. This was not in the interests of the workers: in a period of inflation they were told that they could not demand pay rises; that this would not be in the national interest, and could mean the Tories getting back into power.

Similar arguments are used in Poland. Sacrifices must be made to get the economy on its feet again, “there is no other way”, the only alternative would be to bring back the PUWP. And trade unions and clergy actively preach at the unfortunate workers about the need to work harder, for a “better tomorrow”.

Charmian Skelton