Agriculture: Key to Poland's Future

November 13, 1981

Report Outline
Current Agricultural Crisis
Rural Solidarity Established
Outlook for Polish Agriculture
Special Focus

Current Agricultural Crisis

Food Shortages Trigger Worker Protests

In a year of dizzying changes in Poland, there has been one dispiriting constant: the dearth of food. Food shortages have been to the Polish awakening no less a catalyst for change than they were to the French Revolution. It is the issue generating massive public protest, and a problem to which no force — the government, the independent trade union federation Solidarity, the Soviet Union or the West — has a simple or concrete solution.

Anger over long food lines and empty market shelves has been responsible for a series of strikes in Poland during the last few years, including the one-hour nationwide strike called by Solidarity on Oct. 28. The strikes have been increasingly frequent since July 1, 1980, when the government raised the price of better cuts of meat. In mid-August of that year, resentment over the stagnant economy, price hikes, the lack of freedom and Soviet domination boiled over. On Aug. 14, 1980, workers took over the Lenin Shipyards in Gdansk on the Baltic coast, demanding not only economic concessions, but political reforms as well.

Within days, the strike mushroomed beyond its organizers' wildest dreams. As many as 300,000 Polish workers eventually joined in the work stoppages. The government finally agreed to negotiate with an inner-factory strike committee led by Lech Walesa. On Aug. 31 the strikes ended, with workers winning on most points: pay raises, improved working conditions, relaxed censorship and, most important, the creation of trade unions independent of the central government. Solidarity, which claims to represent 60 percent of Poland's 17 million workers, was officially recognized by Poland's Supreme Court on Nov. 10, 1980. Five months later the Polish government agreed to recognize Rural Solidarity, a union representing the nation's private farmers.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
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