110N% did the Polish strikers try to avoid bloodshed? Alexander I onisk■ and Piotr Jeglinski look at the career of Bogdan Borusewicz editor of a workers' newspaper in Gdansk and co-founder of a free trade union. POLAND's dramatic upheas..il i. still unresolved. At the beginning of last week it seemed that the conflict between workers in the Baltic shipyards and their rulers would have developed into a head-on collision ending in bloodshed, general chaos and Russian invasion.
Yet for the first time in history a Communist Government has been forced to climb (fossil and accept negotiations with a strikers committee. Furthermore. promises have been made to allow the most fundamental political demand: creation of independent trade unions, at least on the shop floor. by secret ballots and with candidates freely chosen by the workers, No doubt the Polish Government would prefer this concession to remain a tactical one and hopes are that eventually workers' committees will be rendered ineffective.
The workers today, however, harbour no illusions about the Government intentions and fully realise the need to see these promises brought to fruition. The painful memories of the empty promises in 1971 and or the fate of strike leaders in Szczecin who all have since disappeared or met with fatal accidents in suspicious circumstances are very much alive. The most important lesson for the Poles. and also for the West which has so tar refused to give up its dark pessimism that no major change in Fastern Europe is possible without the change in the Kremlin. is that room for manouvre has been found due to the claim and determination with which the workers organised and ran their strikes.
They occupied factories and shipyards without the angry street demonstrations which in 1956, 1970 and 1976 ended in outbursts of mob fury, sacking of the local Party headquarters, bloodshed in the streets and later reprisals.
Unlike the isolated strikes in the past, the workers have managed to establish an interfactory committee ensuring coordination as well as greater solidarity among the strikers. For the first time they began to run information bulletins answering Government attacks and giving information about the developments. The committee was even able to run skeleton public services, providing basic utilities and food supplies for the people on the coast.
What made the difference? If ou ask a worker in Poland what future he would like to see for his country. you receive a very simple. unamhigous answer: a free and independent Poland.
Ihis attitude has been reflected in the committees demands for an end to censorship, for the Church's presence on radio and television and even for the establishment 01 a multi-party system.
The Poles know that these dreams are incompatible with the Communist rule but while in the past their frustration led to uncontrollable bursts of violence and later resignation, today it does not,
-two major reasons for this change of attitude can he
detected in recent events; one
was the Pope's visit over a year ago and his message of hope,
particularly to the young people, over 50 per cent of the population are under 30, His message was clear: 1)o not be afraid to insist on
your rights. refuse a Ide based on tit; and double thinking. Do not he afraid of suffering with Christ: Hie Church enters the Third illenium with confidence — an implicit reference to the lack of conviction in the official ideology etch within the Party. To the workers he said "Remember one thing. Christ will never approve that man he considered merely as 11 means of production" ... He died to oppose any form of
degradation. including degradation h) yyork.
Moreover. the millions who demonstrated their faith quietly and with dignity have almost imperceptihls tipped the psychological balance of power between the rulers and the ruled.
People isolated for decades h) the barrage of official propaganda penetrating every corner of their lives saw for the first time their inherent strength. It is interesting to note that during the strikes there has been a voluntarily abstinence from alcohol as during the Pope's visit.
The other factor has been the steads growth of opposition as Poles prefer to call their dissidents reserving the term dissident for their Government,
Since March 1968 when Warsaw students clashed with the
police not all who were beaten up has e been "persuaded" to concern themselves with their studies rather than reforms, Bogdan Borusessiez was arrested in Gdansk for handing out leaflets calling on people to support students demands for greater freedom. He was sentenced but escaped during transport to prison, During a month of hiding in a mortuary he realised what the struggle for
Poland meant. Although nobody, belieses the State ideology, al:J.1one accepts the oppressive varuk quo. No one would help him because inhabitants resigned then-1,cl% es to their fate ()I' passive subjects. He had to give himself up to the police but has not given Lip his struggle for his country organising active resistance to the Stale.
Alter his release from prison two years later he began to study history at the Lublin Catholic University, where he organised student opposition to the creation of the Socialist Student's Union in 1973.
To the great dismay of the anis ersits authorities. frightened tiy the possibility of reprisals, the students held free elections to their on union.
With a group of his friends Borusewicz travelled every year to his native Gdansk to commemorate workers shot during the strikes of 1970, At first they were looked upon as lunatics but in December last year the demonstration which gathered there was 8,000 strong. After graduating from the university he went to the coast to help found an independent trade union which would provide a more effective and less dangerous weapon of social pressure.
For three years this "union"
was only a small body of dissidents but today its member Mr Walesa. who leads the strikers' committee at the Lenin Shipyard, can exert both a moderating influence on the workers' demands as well as extract real concessions from the Goverrnment. Thus Poland enters a new era.