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 failing.
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 –they 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.