Although Poland's Solidarity was outlawed in 1981, the movement would spring up overnight if that were possible, a former Solidarity worker says.
"It is a dear, beloved child of the Polish people," said Maria K. Wrotniak, former head of information for a Solidarity movement regional headquarters.Wrotniak, who holds a doctorate in economics, took a leave of absence from her university faculty position to work for Solidarity.
She was granted political asylum in 1986 and now lives in Salt Lake City, where she is an economic consultant to a local firm.
Wrotniak told a University of Utah Hinckley Institute of Politics session that Poland's young people, who witnessed the optimism of Solidarity and then its downfall, have lost all hope for the future.
Poland's economy is in sad shape because Solidarity was blocked in accomplishing the deep reforms needed, she said. "The housing problem is awful." A young adult must pay for an apartment, then wait 16 years to get one.
Then he must get on waiting lists to purchase furniture, a refrigerator and other goods.
She said Poland's economic crisis, which started in the the late 1970s, is different from the Depression of the 1930s. In the Depression, the world economy was able to produce, but demand was lacking. In Poland, demand is strong but the economy can't produce because of long-term mismanagement by the one-party communist regime.
Many young Poles are trying to emigrate, she said. "For the first time in Poland's history, economic emigration is honorable. Before it wasn't. It was like rats abandoning a sinking ship. Now it is honorable, because it's too much for young people to waste their lives."
Wrotniak said Poland had seen repeated reforms during its 36 years of communist rule. "We had heard it all." But all those reforms came from the top down, and none touched the real problems.
"Then Solidarity arose and demanded real reforms." Solidarity, she said, was sparked in 1980 by shipyard strikes. But the workers' demands weren't financial, they were political such as reducing the special privileges of the secret police.
She said Solidarity wasn't a labor movement in the American sense, although only working people could be members. Of Poland's 17,000 workers, 10,000 joined Solidarity.
She said Solidarity ended after the government finally decided to make its own proposals. "I myself saw people crying, men crying over the compromise," she said.
Martial law was imposed. Anyone caught now doing anything for Solidarity faces five to 10 years in jail.
Wrotniak said that although she couldn't be fired from her university post for her political views, "they" were looking for any pretext, such as being late to lectures, to fire her with a "black ticket" so she could not get another job.
Although many people tried to help her, she eventually had to leave Poland on a tourist visa, taking her son but no belongings.