The appearance and development of an "independent" union in the Eastern branch of capitalism demonstrated both the importance of the autonomous rank-and-file movement and capital’s need to impose limits on it. In Poland, where the diverse interests express themselves through Party-controlled institutions, within the framework of the economic and military imperatives of the dominant imperialism, the movement’s dynamism pushed back the boundary between capital and labor. The enormous hopes carried by this movement in July and August 1980 inspired the creation of spontaneous organs of struggle, but six months later, the movement had to endeavor to define the boundary between itself and these organs, which had become permanent and recognized by the government. In doing this, the movement had to redefine the form and content of its struggle. This is how the class struggle proceeds.
We have already mentioned the judgment expressed more and more frequently in both branches of capital (especially in 1970 and in 1976) that if capitalist Poland hoped to avoid these periodic direct confrontations between the workers and the political power, it would have to find a regulating mechanism, an instrument analogous to the union in Western countries. This led to the recognition that the machinery of the Polish capitalist class was not adequate (if it ever had been); on one side a "Western-type democratic" current advocated modifying state power in order to achieve an equilibrium between the various classes which actually existed in Polish society, an equilibrium favoring the capitalist class, to be sure; on the other side a current advocating economic more than political democracy thought it impossible to set up the Western democratic form (especially at the union level) because of Poland’s position in the Eastern capitalist bloc and because of the general tendencies of international capital, and this current emerged with formulas of participation and self-management. In the absence of any institutions of mediation (neither the Party nor the official union could begin to play such a role), other authorized or tolerated organizations stepped forward to fill the void even though mediation was not one of their original functions.
One of these organizations was the Catholic Church, which can be seen to have played a similar role to the one it played in Spain, under Franco, in the 1960s. Referring to this role, a Polish dissident, A. Smolar, observed as early as August 1980: "In a situation of bitter conflict, it (the Church) will become a major factor in social peace." Walesa confirmed this much later (March 1981) when speaking of Cardinal Wyszynski, "Without his intervention, I would never have been able to end those strikes."
Another organization was the KOR. A group of intellectuals, encouraged by the workers’ actions in 1976, formed defense committees which, in spite of the repression, in five years developed into unions in embryo. In 1980, only a handful of militants was involved with these committees; intellectuals put out the newspaper Robotnik which attempted to serve as coordinator. Kuron, one of the KOR leaders, said in 1980, "We have some influence among the workers and we can increase it because they need assistance, information and advice. It is our responsibility to help workers organize themselves into independent, institutional groups, either workers’ commissions or unions, or to take over the state-run unions." Robotnik proposed an initial formula; workers’ commissions modeled on the ones in Spain. At the beginning of 1980, Walesa attempted to set one up at the Electro Montaz factory where he was threatened with dismissal. He failed. This is probably what made him say on August 22, 1980, "The events came too soon, we were not prepared."
This brief sentence says a great deal: by "the events" he means the autonomous working class actions, the "we" refers to the Polish political opposition, a few hundred members of KOR (including thirty or so activists) ranging from Catholics to more or less Leninist Marxists who wanted to reform the Polish Party. "The events," namely the autonomous activity of the Polish working class, were "the beginning of a relentless battle for the opposition, who sensed that here was a unique opportunity to win permanent political concessions – especially union rights-and who did not want to miss out." (B. Guetta in Le Monde, August 19, 1980).
But regardless of intentions, the KOR and the embryonic union were instruments accessible to the workers in their struggle; the workers used them and, for a time, made them their own. As soon as a new strike broke out, the strikers immediately notified the KOR, with the result that, due to all the Western medias that could be reached in Poland and to the already established network which was growing rapidly, no struggle would henceforth remain isolated, everyone heard about each action. Through news reports and by example, working class cohesion was shaped for a new advance.
This leap to a higher level occurred in July and August 1980, when the spreading strike grew to such a point that it created its own broad organization and reduced the intermediaries of the earlier period to the role of advisors. Baluka, former president of the 1970 Szczecin strike committee, was correct in his assessment; "The current wave is much more mature than anything we have known in the past. This is no longer a spontaneous and local uprising. This is a determined resistance which draws on the valuable experience of previous years and on the existing opposition’s organizational activities. it is not by chance that such an event occurred in the decade of 1970-80. Gierek had hoped to preserve the power of the Party and the capitalist class by pushing industrialization-copying what had been done in Western European countries in the 1950s. But by preserving (for good reasons) the same economic, social and political structures, even after the warnings of 1976, he only compounded the difficuIties which he claimed to be surmounting. As industrialization proceeded, a different method of domination became more and more necessary; growing awareness of this situation created a latent crisis and caused splits in the capitalist class itself, namely in the economic bureaucracy and Party ranks. Thus, there was some common ground between the attempts of the rank-and-file organization which was responding to the requirements of the struggle and the tendencies toward structural reform which came from the apparatus of domination itself. Even before 1980, recommendations from increasingly numerous groups of economists, enterprise managers, intellectuals and politicians had resembled criticism voiced by the opposition. As the class struggle grew more intense, there was increased polarization within the ruling class.
What happened at the Ursus tractor factory in a Warsaw suburb can serve as an example of the chain of events which led to the birth of the union. In 1976, Ursus was one of the centers of spontaneous activity. Again this time, it was one of the first plants to join the resistance to the July 1, 1980, increase in meat prices. A KOR militant of three-months standing who was a member of the official union had been elected one of the 15% uncommitted delegates and took the initiative to go from crew to crew calling for an assembly. Everyone came and agreed about saying no to the price hikes and yes to the strike. A strike committee was elected which, immediately after the strike, transformed itself into a permanent workers’ commission. Later this would be the core of the new union. Baluka described this development:
"In general, the strike originates in one specific shop or in a plant which is part of a specific industrial complex and it very quickly spreads to all the others. Workers shut off the machines and gather in the halls to have discussions. The atmosphere is calm and the occasional proposals to take to the streets are rejected; the workers want to talk with management. At Ursus, an official of the Party’s rank-and-file organization wanted workers who were Party members to go back to work. Not only did they refuse, but they even organized themselves, ruling out any possibility of being used as strike breakers."
But after this admirable description of the rank-and-file movement, he added,
"What we need above all is a solid, permanent liaison between the various enterprises, comprised of representatives elected by the permanent workers’ commissions or of militants from the independent unions. Such groups exist only in Katowice, Gdansk and Szczecin and, at present, they do not have many contacts. One of the most important achievements of the recent strikes is that the Ursus workers elected a workers’ commission which did not dissolve itself but continues to act in the name of the workers."
The language he used reveals what the political opposition expected from the class struggle. Baluka was even more explicit in another article; very similar language is used by other "leaders." Stating that most of the strike committees were net dissolving once the strikes were over, he emphasized that, "the future of Poland depends on whether or not we will succeed in securing fundamental changes. The first step in this direction should be the establishment of independent unions. The current negotiations with the authorities are an excellent opportunity to select representatives who will later become union personnel." This is exactly what happened during the course of events in August 1980. In two areas the strike in Lublin had already gone beyond the movement which until then had been limited to individual factories; organization was on a city-wide scale and an elected delegation negotiated with national leaders rather than with local enterprise or political leaders.
Baluka’s "we" parallels that of Walesa. His assertion that liaisons were almost non-existent at the end of July 1980 parallels Walesa’s assertion that "We were not prepared." In Gdansk, where nothing happened until mid-August, it appears that "union militants" did not attempt to launch any response to the outbursts elsewhere in Poland. In fact, the government itself, by its change in policy, provoked the explosion in Gdansk-a pattern identical to the outbreak of the Ursus strike. The spread of the strike locally was also identical to what happened in Lublin but the two earlier situations were surpassed both in the scope of the demands and the geographic extent of the Gdansk strike. Although the spread of the strike was undoubtedly due to the spontaneity of the struggle as well as to the setting up of rank-and-file organizations (the factory strike committees), the central control which everyone accepted for obvious tactical reasons was gradually lost by the rank-and-file and transferred to the political opposition. From this vantage point, we can see the previously mentioned convergence between the two currents – one inside and the other outside the Party – both committed to reforming the system. The entire autonomous movement converged here with a confrontation between two currents of the capitalist class.
For the great majority of the workers, it is certain that the creation of an independent union corresponded, consciously or not, to what they hoped to achieve through their strike: a permanent structure where they could express their wishes and which they could control. A foreman at the shipyards expressed this on August 18, 1980:
"The main thing at the moment is to start building an officially tolerated independent union movement here; if we get that out of these strikes, then we’ll have gained a lot. As for our other demands, we’ll work for them in the future" (Financial Times (London), August 19, 1980).
These efforts of the proletariat to set up unions have frequently been compared to efforts by the proletariat in already industrialized countries in the second half of the nineteenth century. As far as Poland is concerned, the comparison is valid if one compares the relative importance of the various social classes: peasantry, proletariat, middle classes, ruling class. There seems to have been an attraction to bourgeois democracy; the subordinate classes more or less believed in the fiction of parliamentarism. But in Poland, the real tendency was to completely destroy bourgeois democracy. When Walesa declared that "politics didn’t interest him," he was expressing the workers’ critique of parliamentarism. As modernization got underway in Poland, parliamentary inclinations were attacked by the advent of the real domination of capital, by production techniques and by methods of domination which were those of a modern society.
By the time the Gdansk accords legally recognized the independent union, it had already existed for weeks. But already conflicts between the newly constituted apparatus and the rank-and-file began to be seen. The class collaboration between opposition "experts" and Party "liberals" became more apparent. The nascent union bureaucracy tried to impose "its" rule over the rank-and-file so that authorized strikes would exhibit its real power. We mentioned earlier the restrictions imposed on the wildcat strikes which broke out in Gdansk after September 1980. As in industrialized countries, union collaboration with capitalist power expressed itself in . economic rather than political terms. When Walesa insisted once again: "l am a unionist, I am not a politician," he could not have said it better. What he was doing was exactly what mattered to a union in a modern economy. On August 25, 1980, he proclaimed, "Strikes are the most expensive means of negotiation. An independent union is the only possible way to insure the efficiency of the economy," and he added on August 31, after signing the accords:
"Throughout the entire strike we have thought about the interests of the Nation and it is these we are thinking of as we return to work tomorrow, September 1st. The strike is over."
Here we can recall the remark quoted above that at this point "things start to develop independently of anyone." The legal existence of an institution in capitalist society implied that its power stemmed not so much from its determination to carry on the struggle which had led to its creation, but rather from the authority which the capitalist class assigned it by "recognizing" it as negotiator, and, what is more, as sole negotiator.
This attribute of the institution became at least as important as the matters it would discuss and resolve for the benefit of capital. The ideal model of a western-style union bargaining over the price of the work force quickly gave way to increasingly open intervention in order to maintain social peace and economic efficiency. To a great extent, the union sought to preserve and consolidate the legal power to do this. All the debates on legislation, on media access, on protection of the experts, on the distribution of the old union’s property, were a defense of an institution more than anything else. It seems paradoxical that a movement which grew to prominence in the underground and which succeeded in creating a network of contacts and newspapers should seek "guarantees" from the state at a time when the much more favorable relationship of forces would have permitted it to continue along its original path.
In an interview in the September 8, 1980, German magazine Der Spiegel, Rakowski (who later served as government liaison with the unions) gave a good summary of this situation:
"It is very true that the existence of independent unions is inconsistent with structures which exist at present, but, as for me, for several years I have supported the view that our socialist system in Poland should be changed. . . I am not at all sure that the existence of two unions can continue in the long run. We will see from experience. These recent events have shown us the way. . . Moreover, I believe that the slogan for independent unions is a peculiar and temporary one. When I look around me in the world, nowhere do I see unions that defend workers’ interests to the very end. . . For my part, I would very much like to see this new type of union leader who, as soon as he sees the accounting records, compares capacities and productivities and recognizes that his appeals to the workers are not always followed. At that point we shall see the real character and goals of the new unions and to what extent they take responsibility for production?"
Litynski, a KOR representative, referring to the agreements reached in the mines in early September, 1980, stated,
"The agreements reached are very progressive. At the mine, the new union even got management to agree to as many paid delegates as for the official union. The situation is quite unusual because the president and vice-president of the committee are Party members. The union president is characteristic of a type quite common among young people. He does not know what collective activity is. Spontaneously, he seems to conduct himself more like certain Western union men."
Although they jumped on the bandwagon after things were already underway, these opposition militants and activists as well as the establishment reformers in the official union or the Party nonetheless joined, hoping for a transformation and seemingly sharing the hopes of the workers. This is why they were so quickly accepted at the beginning of the struggles. Their hopes were, however, quite different. In October 1980, Staniszkis observed that the rank-and-file movement was for direct democracy, "against all institutions and all hierarchy. . . for minimal hierarchy. . . for participation in the decisions." For the most part, the "militants" wanted to set up an organization in which they would have tight control over policies. Staniszkis stressed that "in their activity in the illegal unions, they evolved a veritable party mentality and they did not want to share what they had acquired." This attitude does not explain everything. In contemporary Poland, the creation of the union and its effective growth in the strike committees had transferred to these organizations political militants who had earlier been active in the Catholic Church, in working groups among intellectuals or in the Party, in underground associations like the KOR or an embryonic union. By its very existence, the "independent union" became a sort of party, that is, an organization prepared to furnish leadership to the extent that the Communist Party was in relative decline (and to the extent that the Party could not be fundamentally reformed).
It is difficult to determine what the structure of the strike committees had been, but it seems that in many places, as in Gdansk, they had been adopted and accepted without opposition in the initial enthusiasm of the struggle. We do know how the union’s final formation came about, and that it happened mainly in Gdansk. The nucleus of the union originated as the Gdansk Presidium, which was self-appointed while there were only thirty-two striking enterprises represented in the MKS. There were subsequently four hundred of them but no one else was elected or added to the Presidium. This body became the Presidium of the Gdansk union and, in fact, of Solidarity itself, but it included only two workers among its fifteen or so members. Intellectuals played a decisive role in it (a shipyard engineer and the president of the Gdansk student organization, among others). From the beginning there was a hierarchical relationship between the Plenum of delegates and the Presidium. Alongside the Presidium, there were "experts" (whom, at one point, the Gdansk workers had wanted to expel) who managed to function as a still more decisive secret committee. Furthermore, certain ticklish problems (the resolution of which even the narrow base of the Presidium or the Plenum would not have accepted) were settled in private meetings between Walesa and Jagielski and then presented as accomplished fact. General assemblies of workers deciding between different positions were never held; there were only meetings at which the workers were presented with "achieved results."
Staniszkis revealed that in Gdansk, at the very time when the "elites" (prior to becoming unionists) were discussing censorship and other issues with the government authorities, there were covert discussions among the Presidium members about the need to censor the shipyard’s daily bulletin, which had remained independent of direct control by the MKS. From the very beginning of negotiations, the MKS policy of holding two daily meetings was discarded and even in the Presidium itself, there was practically no voting.
This way of operating would be transposed to the Solidarity union with changes in name only. Statutes adopted in Gdansk in mid-September called for election of union officials within three months; elections were not held until July 1981 and there was noticeable reluctance on the part of the rank-and-file to burden themselves with administrative machinery. The congress was held in September 1981. It was marked by the same kinds of conflict which are prevalent in a Western union organization: between advocates of a locally-based structure with regional federation and advocates of a vertical structure based on industrial sectors. Wildcat strikes up to this point had displayed a violent opposition between the local rank-and-files and the national coordinators of the Gdansk Presidium. In the statutes, the lion’s share went to those who were already established: one-half of the National Executive Committee was made up of self-appointed representatives and only one-half consisted of representatives elected by the Congress of delegates, and these, for a three-year term.
As we said before, all this was not a result of chance. Individuals promote these conceptions but these individuals see themselves exercising a particular function in this capitalist society. Kuron, who had a very centralist conception of the union (as opposed to Walesa, more a tactician, who sought to preserve the positions of the Catholic faction without definitively committing himself to a single approach), defined in the January 9, 1981 Le Monde what he saw as the union’s function:
"I am sincerely convinced that anarchy and disintegration of the State are inevitable unless the powerful social movements clearly and unambiguously say what they want, what their expectations are and within what limits they are operating. . . if we want to convince the millions of our fellow compatriots and have them accept the restrictions which we consider necessary, we have to clearly tell them the reasons and the objectives".
"Have them accept the restrictions" really is a very good description of capital’s conception of the function of union activity. This is reflected at every level of power. The political level gets more attention, but the impact is greater at the economic level because this is where workers have to "accept the restrictions" not merely as words but in their experience of daily exploitation. The Guardian (London) commented on November 6, 1980, that Walesa sometimes spoke more like a prime minister than like a rebellious union leader and quoted him;
"We need technological aid from abroad in areas like agriculture, engineering and building. We need foreign experts to come in and point out our mistakes and advise us how to solve our problems. . . (Solidarity) hopes to represent the direct interests of the workers and also to involve itself actively in the search for better management, higher productivity and improved output... "
But all this was made obsolete by the unionist role which Solidarity was to play in the capitalist Poland of today. This role required the union’s integration at the level of the shop floor and-at the other extreme-its integration as a political organ at the national level of political decision making.
At the other end of the social spectrum, at the Ursus plant in January 1981, six months after the events mentioned earlier in this chapter, 83% of the factory workers were Solidarity members, 7% belonged to the official union and 10% were unaffiliated. One of the Solidarity representatives, a foundry engineer, declared, "It is our policy to cooperate with the factory management.” In fact, when the Party organization wanted to replace the director, the Solidarity local came to his support and he remained at his post; the secretary of the Party organization in the factory was replaced instead. The six Ursus factories employ 17,000 workers; every day their grievances were brought to one of the fifty Solidarity delegates. They ranged from problems of money and assistance to demands regarding working conditions. Ursus served as a test for a new attempt at "worker self-management." A hundred-member council made up of representatives of Solidarity, of the official union and of the Party was set up on March 10, 1981. Solidarity wanted to supervise the decisions involving production. This council was to be "a consultative organ of experts which would supervise the distribution of funds and assist in improving working conditions but which would not assume the functions of the director or the managerial staff." It was more an organization of co-management than anything else. We are familiar with the functioning of such organizations in various European countries (France and West Germany).
On July 8, 1981, the first national conference of the Movement for Workers’ Self-management in Poland was held at the Lenin Shipyards in Gdansk. This movement involved 150 of Poland’s largest enterprises. The delegates that met in Gdansk came from seventeen industrial groups which had some form of council for worker management similar to the model at the Ursus plant (described above). Thus, inside the new locals, but on their margins, pressure groups were set up which assembled only union representatives from the large factories (between 17,000 and 30,000 workers). These groups were organized early in 1981 and by the end of April had advanced a number of positions which they considered desirable for the effective functioning of the economy (capitals economy, to be sure):
-suspension of strikes and efforts to avoid them; no proposals for increase of wages;
-exchange of information and of recommendations with the administration and the Party;
-access to the media.
Propositions discussed at the July 8 conference went further; they aimed at making enterprises completely "independent"; control would be administered through financial instruments: credit, taxes and interest rates. We will discuss later this "economic reform," which had support among some reformers in the Party.
This movement, dubbed "the Network," quickly spread to more than 3,000 enterprises. The Solidarity leaders could not long ignore this rank-and-file movement and were obliged to demand a co-management role with very extensive responsibilities. The demand for self-management--appointing enterprise managers, participating in decision-making – probably developed in response to pressure from rank-and-file workers (who wanted accountability) and from supervisory personnel. At the Ursus plant, it was the intermediate level unionists who supported such proposals. Few details are available. The only documented cases are Ursus and the Debienko mines; in addition, there was visible cooperation between the local Solidarity leaders and reformers from the Party at the naval shipyards and large factories in Gdansk. Some sources report that more than one thousand factories established "workers’ councils" and that many of them chose to select managers according to "competence" rather than according to their devotion to the Party. Parliament passed a law on self-management according to which politicians and unionists were to occupy different posts: some positions would remain under the control of the Party and some would be "fully selfmanaged." It seems likely that the legislation was aimed at regularizing a situation that had developed without either Solidarity or the Party being aware of it. Military intervention put an abrupt end to this attempt to change the structures of capitalist management.
The conflict within Solidarity stemmed from the impossibility of reconciling its position as a Western-type union (a mediator between the rank-and-file and the capitalist power) with its tendency to integrate itself totally within the system. The "self-management group" concentrated on bringing about this integration at the most basic level of capitalist production and power, the enterprise. In practice, economic reformers and reformers from the union collaborated to promote the "independent" status of the enterprise, and at this level there were almost no political problems which would have hindered the integration of the union within the state. In fact, the "independence of the enterprise" (namely, greater freedom for capital to establish flexible laws for the exploitation of labor) was put forward in opposition to one sector of the capitalist class – the centralist sector concentrated in the Party.
In Poland, as in every capitalist system, the crucial problem was to obtain, by any methods, the greatest amount from wage labor. In one form or another, the new union quickly found the place assigned it by the development of capital. In Western countries, the differences between the union organizations and the autonomous movement are often partially, and sometimes largely, disguised by the fact that in the post-war period of capital’s expansion – and even today-capital could keep the system functioning by granting a certain number of concessions which were channelled through the union and which assured minimal but necessary participation. In Poland, the class struggle and the rulers’ attempt to resolve the resulting total crisis of the system made it urgent to establish more elaborate structures permitting unions to participate in the management of capital. Such attempts not only collided with already established institutions but, more importantly, Polish capital had nothing to offer workers other than what they could grab through extensive and laborious struggles. The abyss between the imperatives of class collaboration and the hostility of workers toward the system itself and toward capitalist exploitation as such, was expressed not only in the wave of increasing wildcat strikes but also in the daily rejection of a system which the workers were convinced had nothing at all to offer them. These were no longer political actions, but ones which affected capital’s very foundations and which again became political, but at a level where they were associated with the destruction of a system rather than its reform.
When the problem of the union was seen in these terms, the only recourse of the "workers’ organization" was to try to offer political solutions which would permit it to play its role. The development of the self-management network had already forced the union to set itself up as coordinator on the highest level by proposing self-management as the best solution for assuring the survival of the system and a return to the "normal" exploitation of labor. By 1981, it was no longer possible to claim that Solidarity was simply a union; it was "also a social movement of conscious citizens determined to work for the independence of Poland" (declaration to the Congress on September 9, 1981). Everything propelled Solidarity along this path; not only the usual dynamics of a "workers’ organization" in a capitalist society. Since the totalitarian control of the medias and the Party monopoly prevented all self-expression and all meetings with political themes, every political faction hastened to take advantage of Solidarity’s existence and of the relationship of forces between capital and labor in order to use this organization as a political springboard. Just as the 1976 upheavals had permitted the rise of the KOR and underground unions, the 1980-81 struggles saw the entire movement become engulfed in political controversies, with views ranging from ultra-nationalist to trotskyist, especially after Solidarity itself became more a political than a unionist body. On September 12, the Solidarity leader from Szczecin declared that he thought that "the union now has people capable of forming a new national government" and that he had "the impression that he was witnessing the birth of a political party." As in every monolithic political organization, various political currents emerged which tried to respond to what they thought were the concerns of the workers in their rejection of the system. The conflict between the rank-and-file and the bureaucracy of the union became a conflict between the rank-and-file and a political apparatus. One path was thus eliminated; Solidarity, which came to life in order to be a unionist mediator, found itself, through the very logic of the system, thrust in the direction of political power. As it increasingly lost its power as representative of the rank-and-file, it sought political legitimacy and then became vulnerable to the whims of the imperialisms.
The interview Walesa gave to Playboy in December 1981 undoubtedly expressed only his personal opinions, but it nevertheless clearly indicated the direction of Solidarity’s endeavors:
"l will help the Party whenever it is discredited or starts to disappear. There are no other realities here. We are not able to overturn the Party. We are not able to deprive it of its power. We should preserve it. . . At this time, everything is organized so the Party takes care of everything. lf some day there were no longer a Party, it would mean pandemonium. . . But we should create conditions favorable to this Party."
It is significant that Walesa made such a statement at the very moment when material necessities and the capitalist class’s rejection of all attempts at reform were obliging workers as well as rank-and-file unionists to launch an economy run by them and for them, notably in the Lodz region (described earlier). It is just as significant that several members and experts on the national executive committee had a negative opinion of this movement, which got underway in fact and not just in words, and that one of the main experts went so far as to call this movement "ultra-left." Even though everything was almost over, these same leaders revived the idea of the "active strike" as a tactic to counter the governments resort to force. In the face of the rank-and-file movement (ambiguous though it might have appeared at the time), Solidarity leaders adopted fundamentally the same position as capitalist leaders.
By the end, Solidarity had repeatedly demonstrated its inability to control the upsurge of wildcat strikes and to perform its role as union. Can the coup d’etat resolve all these problems, given the extent of the crisis in the Polish economy and the resistance of the rank-and-file movement? If capital expects to get the economy functioning and if it expects to control the workers in order to accomplish this, it will have to find something besides the army in the factories, the Party-dominated union or the resurrection of Solidarity.
In an interview with Oriana Fallacci published in the (London) Times on February 23, 1982, Rakowski defined the tasks of the military government:
"Firstly, to re-establish the economy; secondly, to recreate the trade unions and resurrect Solidarity with the right to strike but not of disrupting; third step to offer concrete proposals to various political forces."
In an earlier statement (February 16, 1982), the intentions were stated more explicitly: "The union movement should be frozen at present.” and "strikes would not be forbidden, but should not be used except as a last resort. Regional structures within the union would be abolished and unions ought to be organized according to profession." At the Seventh Plenum of the POUP on February 24, 1982, Jaruzelski spoke about "the reconstruction of a strong union movement, independent and self-managed." At the same time, an article in the (London) Sunday Times (February 14, 1982) tried to define what the government’s tactics might be in dealing with the problem of a union:
"lf it wants to destroy popular unrest, then it must drive a wedge between the worker members of Solidarity and their advisers: the infrastructure of opposition. There is no other way of building a malleable, tame trade union."
This probably is the path the new regime will take but, in the Western branch as in the Eastern branch of capital, they always consider only the chiefs and leaders who incite the masses. This is the same logic that led the military regime to imprison the entire Solidarity staff, and after a year to detain only the leaders of KOR. This logic completely ignores the fact that it is the economic and social situation which determines the political situation, not the other way around. The government’s selective action against the union leadership and its advisors is not what separated the rank-and-file from what remained of Solidarity or from the part of it that reconstituted itself underground; it was rather what this organization-before and after the military coup, before and after the repression – was forced to do in order to maintain its existence in the face of the rank-and-file movement.
Once the government announced its guidelines (which did not formally exclude Solidarity) this organization regrouped around two poles: one pole was centered among the rankand-file, who created a profusion of more or less autonomous factory organizations with informal networks of coordination; the other pole consisted of those officials who escaped arrest and who, in their contacts with the rank-and-file, tried to preserve Solidarity as it had been before the military coup. The main concern of the rank-and-file was to defend itself, to find efficient, appropriate means to do this; the concerns of the apparatus were to consolidate, to make contacts, to try out slogans, to organize movements in order to improve its credit rating with the government and to establish itself as a useful intermediary. There was, even so, quite a discrepancy between the imprisoned Walesa who said, "Even with tasks limited to purely union activities like workers’ safety and salaries, and even with limited right to strike, it is worth fighting for," and Bujak, an official of the underground Solidarity committee who pointed out on May 11, 1982,
"The fundamental factor which can force the government to come to an agreement, is the economic situation. The union should demonstrate that, after a compromise, real opportunities for stabilization would appear, since an agreement is the only way for Poland to regain access to trade with the West and to international credits."
The discrepancy shows that Walesa saw himself as union leader and Bujak as political leader, while both of them expected to find a rank-and-file on which to base their move toward power. One can ask why the military authorities and the union leaders did not come to an agreement, since they seemed to speak the same language. It was because the modifications and adjustments to the state of siege had not fundamentally changed the question of the union: a modern capitalist economy has to turn a union into an increasingly integrated mediator in the management of the labor force.
After April 1982, relations between the reconstituted Solidarity apparatus and the rank-and-file (even when acting in the name of Solidarity) reverted to what they had been before intervention by the army: the apparatus did not at all control the rank-and-file and was unable to rally it to its platform. For the same reasons as before, the apparatus had to present itself as a political intermediary and it increasingly identified with the KOR – even though the government tried to isolate the KOR leaders by keeping them in prison. It is understandable why, at this time, the Catholic hierarchy advised Solidarity "to limit its political ambitions" and why Rakowski, addressing the Parliament on May 5, 1982, again referred to "the reconstruction of an independent and self-managed union movement," while rejecting Solidarity which, he said, had become "a political force of opposition."
In an April 22, 1982, statement from prison, Kuron declared that direct action against the government was the only alternative: "Force can only be countered by force and clearly spell out to the authorities. . . " The only method for controlling the more or less disorderly uprisings was to organize "a strong centralized resistance movement." This was essentially the route that Solidarity was attempting to follow-with some variations, of course. If Kuron supported an attack "aimed at the overthrow of martial law," the more realistic Bujak advocated construction of a movement of mutual aid and of self-education, as did Bogdan Lis, who declared that it was necessary "to avoid a frontal clash with the Communist authorities." In the August 31, 1982, Le Monde, Guetta stressed that "it is not the Provisional National Committee that disturbs the authorities, but the thousands and thousands who edit, reproduce, distribute. . . , read." One might also add, those who act.
A poll taken in September 1982 revealed that 90% of the workers wanted the return of Solidarity and, at first sight, it seemed foolish for the government, in the following month, to institute new union laws which completely ignored past history. But the cohesion of the rank-and-file and the fact that it managed to avoid control by any apparatus (as it had also done before December 1981), created an impossible situation which the military solution had in no way resolved. After just a few months, the new government realized that its plans involving Solidarity were unworkable because the basic problem which had led to the military coup (namely, the problem of dominating the labor force) was still there. Rakowski acknowledged this when he said it was necessary "to outlaw the present union and start again from scratch."
In the direct confrontation between capitals repressive force and the workers, the realism of both sides was visible. 'The realism of the rank-and-file can be seen in a variety of responses. We have mentioned the most obvious one of the rank-and-file distancing itself from the reconstituted Solidarity, even though this same rank-and-file accepted the name of Solidarity. Other responses appeared inside the enterprises and are little known; one can assume that they varied between ignorance about the special committees which were set up in all large enterprises in order to assist the military representatives assigned to supervise the work, and some collaboration with these committees. In Nowa Huta, employing 36,000 workers, where all the Solidarity leaders had been arrested and the rank-and-file delegates ousted, the committee was composed only of Party representatives who reported directly to the Military Council for National Salvation. In contrast, at the Ursus tractor plant, employing 16,000 workers of whom only ten were imprisoned, the committee contained former Solidarity members who did not hide their intention of setting up another union.
The realism of the government could be seen in the new law on unions which was passed by Parliament on October 8, 1982. All the existing unions were abolished and a step-by-step reconstruction of new unions was projected: by the end of 1983, unions at the enterprise level; by the end of 1984, their organization into national industrial unions; by the end of 1985, a national confederation. Unions at the enterprise level could be organized by just fifty employees and statutes would have to conform to the law, which contained numerous limitations; the crucial limitation called for mandatory arbitration to resolve conflicts and permitted legal strikes only after a complicated procedure.
In spite of appeals from Solidarity’s underground National Committee, and even though the rank-and-file considered itself Solidarity, the law was passed without serious opposition. However, when the law was put into effect, the authorities found much less acceptance than they had anticipated; of 40,000 major enterprises, only 16,000, involving around three million workers, had set up "their" union by August 1983; there was widespread lack of interest, especially among young workers and managerial staff; even Party members were unenthusiastic. But, as in the case of the special committees, this observation is a generalization of very different situations, of which we have few examples. In Katowice on October 21, 1983, the first congress of the new Federation of Mine Workers’ Unions was held; it represented 150,000 out of 400,000 miners. Half of the members were toadies, the other half were there to see what could be done within the limits of the new law. Martyniuk, the president, was a former Solidarity member and he stated,
"If workers’ interests require it, we are prepared to use our right to strike; we are demanding joint discussions on wages and working conditions, on Saturday work and maintenance crews’ Sunday work."
At the discussions there was apparently strong resistance from the minister in charge of mines, namely, the boss; but the attitudes and the way things developed were reminiscent of a "normal" Western-type union. On December 8, 1983, the 9,500 workers at the Warsaw Steelworks freely voted for a new workers’ council; among the candidates were former Solidarity activists, including some who had been imprisoned. This does not seem to have been typical, however, since, on one hand, workers boycotted most of the council elections and, on the other, hard-liners in the Party complained that the new law on self-management left them little influence. At the Steelworks, underground leaflets supported the election of the workers’ council and saw it as a chance to "break with the atmosphere of passivity and negativity" among the workers. At the end of December 1983, 1,780 workers out of the 13,800 at the FSO Zeran auto plants became members of an "independent and self-managed union," but this union competed for the role of managing the work force with the factory’s workers’ council, which had been democratically elected before the December 1981 coup and which continued to function.
Solidarity’s underground organization was aware of the withdrawal of its rank-and-file but did not see how to proceed in order to define new tactics. Ultimately, one had to agree with Guetta’s comment on Solidarity in the November 24, 1982 Le Monde:
"The union is now only a vanguard which is seeking a path for itself."
After the ineffective strikes, which caused only the slightest inconvenience to the government, the Solidarity leadership had no choice but to acknowledge the state of affairs; first, its isolation from the rank-and-file, and second, the resulting impossibility of participating in the government’s projects to construct a union better suited to the requirements of the Polish economy. Some leaders advocated a return to legality while leaving the rank-and-file to organize itself (this was largely recognition of a situation over which they had little influence). Other leaders advocated the development of an underground press in order to mold activists for the future (here, one sees the KOR tendency to create a political organization which awaits another worker revolt in order to insert itself into it). The middle position between these two extremes was entry into the new unions, where the Solidarity militants served to counterbalance other tendencies. Here, too, what remained of Solidarity as organization was reduced largely to a political and ideological role.
This is the place to make some observations about Walesa, whose fate in some ways was the same as that of other Solidarity leaders but differed because of his role as unionist. The mass movement made use of organizational leaders as tools for the moment, but the leaders believed it was they who had created the mass movement. The ebbing of this movement and its changed forms left the leaders high and dry, desperately looking around for the currents which had sustained them in the past. This was even more obvious for Walesa than for the others. The occupants of the Polish structures of domination did not misjudge him. In an interview with Fallacci published in the (London) Times on February 22, 1982, Rakowski stated, "In fact, some in the church are kind of tired of him . . . So there are rumours that the church is considering the possibility of dropping him.” In another statement (to Newsweek in January 1983), Rakowski said, "For a certain social group, Walesa is still some kind of symbol."
Walesa could no longer be regarded as head of the Solidarity which had become a secret organization with underground leaders and which was pursuing political goals. It is incorrect to say that Solidarity remained a union which was carrying on its operations illegally, because the underground movement was completely different from a union. As for Walesa, he believed in the union and considered himself a union leader who was concerned only with union affairs. But since Solidarity was no longer a union but a political group guided by persons who had been leaders of the KOR, Walesa was no more than a union chief without a following. He undoubtedly retained his popularity as a union chief, a popularity he would have lost had Solidarity succeeded in becoming a traditional union.
His popularity persisted because of a mistaken impression held by Polish workers: that Solidarity expressed their interests. Solidarity disappeared as a result of the coup d’etat, before the conflict between the rank-and-file and the administration became visible. The conflict remained latent because of the tendency of Solidarity to become a traditional union, but it never appeared openly because events continually prevented Solidarity from assuming this role. There were now two distinct entities; Solidarity to a large extent became a dissident political movement and Walesa became a symbol.
This was a significant change, and even the Church had to take it into account. The Church’s influence was derived from the peasantry and its influence among workers was due to the rapid shift of the peasant population toward industry. In order to maintain its authority, the Church had to adopt conciliatory and realistic attitudes, and had to seek relationships which would maintain social peace. The Pope and Archbishop Clemp had no alternative except to work for a reconciliation with the regime in power. These two churchmen might have seemed l like the natural allies of Solidarity and Walesa as long as the latter two remained within legal bounds and had a welldefined function. But when Solidarity moved in the direction of the underground, illegal and politically competitive KOR, and when Walesa became a union chief without followers, the Church rejected these potential allies. A compromise between Jaruzelski and the Church was worked out with a view to maintaining social peace.
The Church’s attitude did not destroy Walesa’s symbolic importance. The Walesa symbol objectively served as a prop to the regime; it reconciled the oppressed to their oppression.