16. BANKROLLING POLAND'S LABOR UNREST
The labor unrest in Poland during the last half of 1980 provided the
American mass media with a story worthy of exploitation. Daily headlines
and nightly newscasts showed the American public that communism was
Two important stories that the media did not report might have put
the Polish situation in a different perspective.
One story dealt with the part Western bankers played in bringing about
the problem and the other concerned the actual demands of the workers
in Gdansk. Both were virtually ignored by our media.
Fortune magazine, in a well-documented article, charged that it was
pressure from Western bankers on the Polish government for internal
economic reforms which led to the nationwide strikes.
When some 30 American, Canadian, British, and, Japanese bankers met
with Polish officials in late April, the message was clear -- the bankers,
concerned with Poland's 20 billion dollar hard-currency indebtedness,
wanted a timetable for economic reform. Reform came with a vengeance
when the government doubled the price of sugar in June and raised the
price of meat on July 1. Reportedly, the bankers were first pleased
with the government's action
then horrified by the ensuing strikes.
But the die was cast for the struggle that followed.
Meanwhile, enthusiasm for the Polish strikers has been unbounded in
the United States, as much in such conservative publications as the
Wall Street Journal as anywhere else. Yet examination of the 21 demands
of the workers in Gdansk makes one wonder which side the U.S. would
intervene on, if capitalist principle, as frequently articulated by
Reagan and the WSJ, were to be upheld.
Those unpublicized demands included: social control of the media; freedom
for victimized strikers, students, political prisoners, and dissidents;
return to the family farm; collective ownership of factories; cost of
living pay increases; retirement age of 50 for women and 55 for men;
union classification of occupational diseases and free medicine; guaranteed
places in nursery schools and kindergartens for children of working
women; and a three year maternity leave.
These demands, part of a total of 21 made by the Gdansk strikers, no
doubt would be termed impossible, intolerable, and insane in the U.S.
Perhaps this is why they have not been widely publicized by our media
while the strikers' struggle itself has been.
In all of the coverage given the Polish unrest by the U.S. media, the
American public never learned how U.S. bankers and others helped precipitate
the crisis nor what the Polish workers were striking for. The exclusion
of these two important stories qualifies this for nomination as a "best
censored" story of 1980.
Fortune, Sept, 22, 1980, "What the Bankers Did to Poland,"
by Juan Cameron; The Village Voice, Dec. 17-23, 1980, "Polish Workers
and the U.S.," by Alexander Cockburn and James Ridgeway.