Warsaw Court Acts : Solidarity Gets Legal Status Back
The independent, self-governing trade union Solidarity is legal again. For the second time in history, it has become the only independent trade union in the Soviet Bloc.
The final step in the legalization process took place Monday in Warsaw’s provincial courts building, a soot-stained four-story maze of dim hallways and high black doors, in the same chamber where Solidarity’s original charter was accepted by a beleaguered and reluctant Polish government in November, 1980.
“All workers have the right to create and gather together in labor unions according to their wish,” said Danuta Widawska, presiding over a panel of three women judges as she read from court documents. “Accordingly. . . . “
Chants of “Solidarnosc! Solidarnosc!” filled the courtroom where about 300 supporters had gathered, while the three judges, their scripted moment upon Poland’s political stage concluded, shook hands with the leaders of the Solidarity delegation and retreated to their chambers, ready to let the continuing drama unfold.
Hours later, in what was billed as a planned response to the legalization, President Bush, in a speech in Hamtramck, Mich., announced a new package of economic aid and debt relief for Poland. There was no immediate response from either the government or Solidarity, with spokesmen for both sides saying they preferred to withhold comment until they had read Bush’s speech.
French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas, on a visit here, welcomed Poland’s move and said that Paris will back efforts to ease Warsaw’s crippling foreign debt.
Lech Walesa, whose name was also taken up in rhythmic chant by the courtroom crowd, was not there--he was home in Gdansk nursing a cold and preparing, it was said, for an early rendezvous with Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, the Communist Party leader forced into an accommodation with the union he once suppressed by declaring martial law.
In response to Monday’s court action, Solidarity issued a statement by Walesa saying, “I appeal to all workers and supporters of our union to form factory organizations as soon as possible where they still don’t exist and to report their membership in Solidarity or to join it.”
The legalization of the union movement followed eight weeks of “round-table” talks between government and union officials. The accord reached April 5 set out a program of democratic and institutional reforms and provided for the National Assembly to amend the legislation that had outlawed Solidarity in 1982.
After the amendment, it remained only for Solidarity to petition the court for legal status. The court responded favorably Monday.
At the courthouse, meanwhile, there was the usual supporting cast--the scores of elderly women, eyes primed for tears and hands clutching bouquets, gray-haired men with canes and Solidarity pins affixed to their worn lapels.
“I’ve been waiting eight years for this,” said Kaszimiera Jaziewicz, who, as with many of her friends on the courtroom, had spent much of that time in the basements of Roman Catholic churches, laboring with faithful defiance for Solidarity’s ultimate return to the scene. “We are very happy.”
Delighted as she was, Jaziewicz and others could see a sharp difference between the courthouse scene Monday and the one that took place on Nov. 10, 1980. The contrast suggested the length of the journey Poland has made--and the distance it has yet to travel.
Back then, as an intoxicating mood of defiance swept Poland, the courthouse hallways teemed with Solidarity supporters, the streets were filled with banners and chanting crowds prepared for a triumphant march through the streets.
On Monday, as a sudden cold rain turned to snow, Warsaw’s busy streets absorbed the handful of Solidarity enthusiasts virtually without a trace. One of them, on the steps of the court building, suggested staging a march.
“That’s fine,” said Father Henryk Jankowski, Lech Walesa’s parish priest from St. Brygida’s in Gdansk, who had journeyed to Warsaw for the occasion. “That’s fine, but I don’t think we have enough people.”
Father Jankowski was right. In addition, the union, legalized as part of a bargain struck after long negotiations with the Polish authorities, has more pressing concerns.
The bargain itself is not easy, for Solidarity must balance its determined calls for a reform of the country’s economic system with the need to protect the interests of the workers in whose name the union was founded--goals that are bound to come into conflict. Also, the union’s activists and chief advisers are preparing for national elections to a newly created Senate and to compete for 35% of the seats in the national Parliament.
Among the Solidarity officials present at the court proceedings Monday was Bronislaw Geremek, a university professor who was one of the leading architects of the sweeping round-table agreements signed by Solidarity and the government.
“I remember eight years before today,” said the ginger-bearded historian as he stood in the jury box of the courtroom waiting for the panel of judges to emerge. “I have the feeling that now we start with different conditions.”
The first of the new conditions, he said, stemmed from the Soviet Union and the changes brought about by Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
“Second,” he went on, “I have a feeling that on both sides, the Polish government side and Solidarity, we learned something. We learned how to cope with one another. I have the feeling that the Communist Party changed and Solidarity learned how to practice compromise.”
Both the government and Solidarity hope that the compromise will hold together for at least four more years, when--as Geremek reminded his listeners--the next elections to the Polish National Assembly will be fully free.
“This was the most important thing we decided at the talks,” he said, “that the next elections should be simply democratic. This means that it is a promise, and the realization of this promise depends on the strength of Polish society.”
Faced with rising consumer shortages and mounting inflation, Polish society may have to bear greater hardships before any economic renewal occurs. The Polish government has counted on its agreement with Solidarity to pry badly needed financial support from Western nations, both for investment and for relief from a $39-billion foreign debt.
Solidarity has made it clear that it will join forces with the government in this appeal, even to the point of sending Walesa abroad--to Rome this month, followed by trips later in the year to West Germany and the United States--not quite as an official emissary, but at least as a demonstration of a new spirit in Poland.
ONCE OUTLAWED, NOW LEGAL Key events in the history of Solidarity: 1980 August--Electrician Lech Walesa leads strike at Gdansk’s Lenin Shipyard and starts worker revolt against Communist state. Authorities agree to make Solidarity the Soviet Bloc’s only legal independent union. 1981 Dec. 13--With general strike threatened, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski declares martial law, suppressing Solidarity activities and interning thousands of members, including Walesa. 1982 Oct. 8--Solidarity is banned and a government-run trade union alliance is created to take its place. Nov. 11--Walesa is freed. 1983 July 22--Jaruzelski lifts martial law but leaves many curbs in effect. Oct. 5--Walesa wins Nobel Peace Prize. 1986 Sept. 11--Government releases 225 political prisoners, including all senior Solidarity leaders. 1987 Nov. 29--Poles vote in first referendum in 41 years but deny support to government for its economic reform package. 1988 August--After series of strikes in spring, new strikes break out and spread, creating Poland’s worst labor strife in seven years. On Aug. 31, in response to government overture, Walesa holds first meeting with government officials in six years and appeals to workers to end strikes. Sept. 3--Strikes end. 1989 Jan. 17--Communist Party leadership decides Solidarity can be legalized under certain conditions, meeting Solidarity’s terms for talks. Feb. 6--"Round-table” negotiations begin. April 5--Walesa and Interior Minister Czeslaw Kiszczak conclude historic deliberations by endorsing a new “social contract” for Poland, including the legalization of the union.