Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Dave Brand

Polish Strike Scores Advance for Working Class

First Published: Unite!, Vol. 6, No. 16, September 1, 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Pleading with workers to cease their strike, the Polish government printed leaflets and dropped them from planes high over the Polish cities. But even before the leaflets hit the ground, the printing plant that produced them was strikebound.

300,000 Polish workers, called out of hundreds of factories struck in a coordinated movement that engulfed the entire country. This is a strike that organized workers in other cities, in spite of the government shutdown of telephone facilities. This is a strike which has defeated every attempt to split and destroy it. This is a movement that gripped the world in recent weeks, as all eyes were on Poland.

The initial spark for this general strike came from an inflationary rise in the price of meat, a callous attack on the workers’ standard of living. Fanned by government harassment of worker activists opposing the revisionist state-controlled trade unions, the rebellion in Poland has been building for some years. Out of the experience of the less organized and bloody strikes of 1956, 1970 and 1976, the Polish working class displayed remarkable organization. Setting up central headquarters in the occupied Lenin shipyard, Polish workers organized nationwide, proclaimed an incisive and popular set of demands and diverted every attempt by the capitalists, the bosses who control the Polish “communist” party and state, to defeat the strike.

What Kind of Movement is This?

After the death of J.V. Stalin in 1953, socialism was defeated in the Soviet Union and the People’s Democracies in Eastern Europe. Attacking Lenin and Stalin, reversing three decades of socialist construction, Nikita Khrushchev vowed to “surpass capitalism” and moved to establish a “socialist” state in words only, while in deeds, the Soviet Union became an imperialist superpower, contending with U.S. imperialism. The fraternal relations between the Soviet Union and the Eastern European countries were transformed into a dependent relationship, determined by the new Czars in the Kremlin. Political power was forcefully taken from the working class by the revisionists in control of the former communist parties. Based upon the remnants of the old capitalist class, a new capitalist class arose which seized control of the means of production and the wealth of the country.

The present strike in Poland was not directed against a socialist state, but against a revisionist state controlled by capitalists.

Now, all the workers’ institutions, including the trade unions, are used to maintain the class rule of the capitalists. That is why the workers struck, against the state and the government trade unions, for, as Jan Szydlak, head of those unions said, “The authorities do not intend to give up their power or share it with anyone else.”

The Polish capitalists are finding themselves in a crisis Economically they have mortgaged the Polish working class to the U.S., and the Soviet imperialists, resulting in an economy which can neither feed nor house the population adequately. Wracked by inflation, fully 70 cents out of every dollar collected in taxes goes to pay interest on the $18.5 billion national debt. This factor, coupled with the more and more repressive measures adopted by the Polish state to squash opposition, has brought about a crisis in which larger and larger sections of the Polish working class are brought into confrontation with the government. The movement which is now arrayed in battle against the Polish capitalists is a genuine progressive workers’ movement. Though it contains demands and elements which are both left and right, progressive and backward, the movement “strikes at the foundations of the state ”, as even President Gierek admits.

The demands of the workers are far-ranging. This movement, made up of both intellectuals and workers, demands higher wages and pensions; economic demands familiar to workers in this country. In addition, they have adopted demands against strike-breaking, for official recognition of the strike committee, open communication with the rest of the country and freedom for political prisoners (when strike leaders were “detained”). These are all progressive demands. At the same time, there are backward elements who demand a greater role for the Catholic Church in Poland (which has joined the state in trying to break the strike) and pose anti-communist and anti-worker solutions to the problems of the people.

What Is A Free Trade Union?

The most significant of the workers’ demands is for “free trade unions.” As an example of the mixture of left and right, this slogan has a double edge.

First, given the fact that the Polish state and the “communist” party of Poland are now controlled by an entrenched capitalist class, it is perfectly sound to demand that the trade unions be “free” of such control and influence. Revolutionary trade unionists in Germany, Spain and the U.S., where the unions and the state are firmly in the capitalists’ grip, make the same demand, for in this situation the unions cannot and will not fight for the working class. Florian Wisniewski, leader of the strike committee, characterizes the strike-breaking of the government as “capitalist tactics”, and so they are. Other strikers have maintained that they are not against socialism.

But on the other hand, the slogan “free trade unions” has been used to cut the throat of the working class. Under the banner of “free” trade unions, the bourgeoisie, with the help of George Meany of the AFL-CIO, destroyed rank-and-file controlled unions in France, Germany, South America and the U.S. after World War II. Under the slogan of fighting for unions “free of communists”, these reactionaries wanted unions free from working class leadership. It seems that some Polish workers would like to see their “free” trade unions modeled after the AFL type, which they will find out is no freedom at all.

There is no freedom above classes. All notions of freedom are freedom for a class to act in one way and to be free from being acted upon. In a genuine workers’ state, the trade unions would be free to be affiliated with the highest expression of the workers’ movement, their state. As a matter of fact, a real workers’ state would use the trade unions to enable the workers to make decisions about the nation’s welfare.

Nevertheless, the Polish strikers are determined to win “free trade unions” and the right to strike. Polish officials have already given way on these demands, under great pressure. The workers themselves are forming an All Poland Trade Union Congress, parallel to the official unions. But it remains to be seen whether this new trade union will be based on the suicidal “freedom to cooperate with the capitalists” (as in this country) or whether it will pursue the independent interests of the working class as part of the revolutionary trade union movement worldwide. This would be a great step forward.

Who Supports the Polish Workers and Who Doesn’t

Our Party, the CPUSA/ML, supports the strike of the Polish workers, as do Marxist-Leninists all over the world. It comes as no surprise to us that the new capitalist class of Poland and the Soviet Union would some day face workers’ opposition to exploitation and oppression. The strike wave swells the ranks of the world wide revolutionary trade union movement. It also teaches the world’s working class five important lessons:

1. That capitalism exists in the disguise of communism in the Soviet Union, Poland and in the other former people’s democracies, excluding socialist Albania.
2. That the working class can and will fight for liberation from the capitalist yoke in the revisionist (phony communist) countries.
3. That real revolutionary workers and Marxist-Leninists are rallying to support the struggle of the Polish workers.
4. That the Polish workers will develop the struggle, using Marxism-Leninism, to finally achieve real socialism, and an end to capitalism in their country.
5. That there is a common struggle of Polish, American, German and other workers around the world for liberation from capitalism. This situation points up the need for the future development of an international revolutionary trade union organization necessary for a united assault against world capitalism.

But false support for the Polish workers comes forward as well. The phony communists of the U.S., the Communist Party U.S.A., admit to some “economic” problems in Poland, but charges “outside agitators” for the political character of the strike.

The trade union bureaucrats shed crocodile tears of support for the Polish workers, proclaim sympathy for their demands even while they systematically deny democratic and trade union rights to American workers and union members. These hypocrites are waiting to subvert the Polish trade union movement, while feathering their own nests, by selling out the workers they profess to love.

U.S. government officials from President Carter to Mayor Jane Byrne of Chicago have used the strike as another publicity ploy to try to sabotage the call for an end to wage slavery.

A Crack in the Door To a Brighter Future

This strike is a lesson in how big movements grow from small ones. “While the strike may have “officially ended” the struggle between those who want to pursue the independent interests of the working class and those who will try to subvert the new unions in every possible overt and covert way, will continue. The strike, up to this point, has been a lesson in the spirit of a united working class which pursues its independent goals. This spirit represents the hope of the world. Within this spirit lies the answer to recessions, to depressions and to world war. Within this spirit lies the hope of peace, prosperity and security for the international working class. We have the same enemy – international capitalism – and the same struggle, for genuine socialism and the dictatorship of the working class. All American workers should support the Polish revolutionary workers’ struggle.

The Movement Is Advancing But It Must Stay On Course