Walesa puts on show of Solidarity


Central Europe Correspondent

President Lech Walesa of Poland has offered his services as mediator in the increasingly bitter confrontation between the government and the Solidarity trade union, which he led in the struggle against Communism.

He made his offer over the weekend after a clash between police and Solidarity protesters in Warsaw left more than 30 people injured. At the same time he urged Jozef Oleksy, the Prime Minister, to resign if he could not resolve the crisis quickly. Friday's clash was the most violent since the overthrow of Communist rule in 1989.

Now Solidarity is demanding protection from mass unemployment. Police said the trouble started after 10,000 activists began throwing stones, bolts and bags filled with paint at a government building. According to the union, which bused in many of the demonstrators from the depressed region of Silesia, the police started the trouble.

In the immediate heat of battle, some were tempted to draw parallels with the struggles involving the Walesa-led Solidarity of the early 1980s. Then as now, the protesters were united in their hatred of Communism (or the reformed variety as represented by the government of Mr Oleksy). Then as now, the police resorted to heavy-handed tactics: truncheons, tear- gas and water cannon.

But as the dust began to settle, observers pointed out that there was no question of history being about to repeat itself.

"Back in 1980, when people took to the streets, their actions were approved by the whole of society. Today they are not. And those that participate in these protests behave much more aggressively," said Piotr Pacewicz, political editor of the Gazeta Wyborcza.

At its peak, Solidarity boasted a membership of 10 million, and, in addition to economic demands, pressed for a range of political freedoms. Today the union's membership is less than two million and its political role is greatly diminished.

There is also a fundamental inconsistency in its position. While much of its rhetoric remains virulently anti-Communist, the union devotes all its energy to fighting for long-discredited socialist economic policies: job guarantees, higher wages and social-welfare benefits for all.

Such inconsistencies, however, are unlikely to deter Mr Walesa. Having fallen out with the union for refusing to support his candidates in the 1993 parliamentary elections, the former shipyard electrician is now assiduously courting it in the run-up to presidential elections due later this year.

If he is able to act as a mediator in the current conflict, Mr Walesa may be rewarded with the backing of his old union allies, giving him the power-base from which he hopes to launch his bid for a second term. If Mr Oleksy, as he has so far indicated, decides to try to resolve the dispute alone, the President will seek to increase tension between the two sides as much as possible. He will then retire to the presidential palace to reap the political reward.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'