A new and striking demonstration of the sabotaging role of trade unionism has just been given by the recent strikes in Poland. Solidarnosc, presented everywhere as the emanation of the formidable movement of the Polish workers in 1980, has, eight years later, openly confirmed the real reason for its existence: to drag the workers back into the grip of the national capitalist institutions of Poland.
Faced with a movement that arose spontaneously to demand wage rises against a whole accumulation of measures by the government, Solidarnosc deployed a veritable panoply of maneuvers, worthy of the oldest tricks of the western unions. The pupil has learned well from his teachers: the numerous meetings between Walesa and his acolytes with various unions, especially in France and Italy, have borne fruit.
In 1980, in a matter of days, the working class had by its own efforts managed to organize itself on the scale of the entire country, on the basis of general assemblies in the factories, extending and unifying the movement, centralizing it in inter-factory committees of delegates from the assemblies (the MKS), forcing the government to come and discuss and negotiate publicly in front of all the workers. It took over a year of the joint efforts of the government and of Solidarnosc, newly constituted as a fireguard against the mass strike, to get the workers to toe the line. This year, the ‘free and independent' union, carefully ‘tolerated' since then by the government, and equipped with a by no means negligible apparatus of contact and propaganda throughout the country, was this time able to play its role as a social fireman in the service of the national capital.
At the beginning of the movement, at the end of April, when the transport workers of Bygdoszcz, then the steelworkers of the Nowa Huta works near Cracow, followed by those of the Etalowa Wola steelworks, all came out on strike, they raised the hopes of the whole working class, which was being subjected to a considerable attack on wages and working conditions. In a situation ruled by draconian rationing of the most basic consumer goods, and where there had been announced price rises of 40% on a number of essential goods and of 100% on electricity and gas, all eyes were turned towards these strikers, who had put forward general demands for all the workers, for the steelworkers, the hospital workers, and other sectors. At this point, the leaders of Solidarnosc, Walesa and Kuron at their head, disapproved of the strikes "which are acts of despair that are understandable but that can only make things more difficult" (sic). They advised the workers to call for "political reforms" and "free trade unions", expressing open support for Gorbachev's ‘perestroika'.
The government had a division of labor with Solidarnosc. It rapidly gave in to the demands of Bygdoszcz and Stalowa Wola - because these enterprises were ‘competitive' - while putting some of the leading figures in the union in prison for a few hours, in order to give more credibility to their role as ‘opponents' of the regime, especially in front of the young workers among whom Solidarnosc's appeals for moderation did not go down at all well. Finally, faced with the growing solidarity of the workers, a solidarity which has been a characteristic of the struggles in Poland since the struggles of 1970, 1976, and above all 1980, the union did all it could to get to the head of the movement. It supported the strikes at the Gdansk shipyards, which were the centre of the movement in 1980, and at the Ursus tractor factory near Warsaw, in order to focus the whole push for solidarity on these two workers' concentrations where it had a strong implantation, obviously to the detriment of a real broadening of the movement. The maneuver worked well. Even though there was a real solidarity among the workers of these factories, they were the places where Solidarnosc had sufficient strength to get away with its tricks. In Gdansk in particular, it proclaimed a ‘strike committee', nominated by itself and not by the workers' assembly, a typical maneuver of western ‘democratic' unionism. It did the same thing at Nowa Huta where it set up its own ‘strike committee' even though one had already been created under the control of the workers. Finally, while the whole beginning of the movement had been marked by unifying demands (for the indexing of wages with inflation, improvements in health services, etc), the latter disappeared as if by magic when Solidarnosc arrived at the head of the movement, and gave way to the ‘democratic' demand for the ‘reconstruction of the union'. Finally, having managed to regain control of the situation, Solidarnosc could then allow itself to threaten the government with a "general strike", in the event of "Jaruzelski sending the zomos (militia) into Nowa Huta"; but since Solidarnosc had already reassured the government that it had things under control, the latter had no need to do this.
Despite the considerable experience of struggle which the Polish workers have forged in the last twenty years through three waves of strikes, they have only just come up against the union barrier in the ‘oppositional' form that it takes in the west. And this was all the more difficult for the workers in that, in the eastern bloc regimes, illusions in ‘free and independent' trade unionism are very strong, and that in Poland Solidarnosc still has the appearance of a direct product of the struggles of 1980.
The answer to the obstacles which the Polish workers have just come up against lies first and foremost in the deepening of the present struggles in the western countries. It is in these countries that the bourgeoisie is strongest, is in these countries where the ‘key' to domination over the international proletariat can be found. And above all, for the development of experience and consciousness in class, it is in these countries that the working class itself is the most developed and is fronted with the most sophisticated obstacles to the struggle, in particular the obstacle trade unionism and its ‘radical' and ‘rank and file' varieties.
Despite the retreat which they have be forced to make for the moment, the workers in Poland have once again given the world proletariat an example of determination, of combativity, of active solidarity in taking up the struggle again seven years after the bitter feat of 1981. The response to this example, real solidarity with the workers of Poland, the strengthening of the struggle in the western countries, its advance towards unification.