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[Op-Ed] Solidarity of Poland

Posted July. 08, 2009 08:47,   


Many regard Nov. 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell, as the day communism collapsed. Poles, however, say June 4, 1989 was the real day of the ideology’s demise. They say that day’s free elections in Poland, the first of its kind in Eastern Europe, caused the wind of change to spread across satellite states of the former Soviet Union and break down the Berlin Wall. A ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of Poland’s democratization was scheduled to take place in Gdańsk, the birthplace of the Solidarity movement. The event had to be relocated, however, as the union threatened to go on strike to ruin the ceremony.

More than 15,000 people worked at the Gdańsk shipyard in the 1980s, but only 2,500 do so now. After surviving on subsidies amid a management crisis, the shipyard was sold to Ukraine. The British magazine The Economist said Solidarity was responsible for the shipyard’s fate, saying that with its pride of having led the pro-democracy movement, the union was above the shipyard’s management. When the global shipbuilding industry enjoyed a boom a few years ago, the shipyard was already deep in debt. Whenever the Polish government talked about restructuring or privatization, the union resisted by going on strike. No wonder such a strike-prone union failed to miss the June 4 event.

In his visit to Poland yesterday, President Lee Myung-bak said he felt familiar in the Eastern European country due to the similar modern histories of the two countries. With “democracy” in its name, Korea’s umbrella militant labor organization is also similar to Solidarity. Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who was sworn in last year, is implementing business-friendly policies by reversing protectionism and attracting foreign businesses. Solidarity, however, remains immersed in its glorious memory of struggle. Many Poles are growing discontent with the union, saying that it is time for the Solidarity brand to retire.

Not all unions are like Solidarity. The head of Swedish carmaker Saab’s union said the company must remove jobs that lack competitiveness and focus on providing top-class products and services. President Lee is to visit Sweden as part of his European tour this week. It would have been better if Korean labor leaders accompanied him.

Editorial Writer Kim Sun-deok (yuri@donga.com)