it’s hard to believe that 25 years have passed since americans were confronted with the galling spectacle of ronald reagan’s crocodile tears on behalf of the polish workers and their independent trade union solidarity (solidarność)—while he vanquished an independent trade union in his own country (patco). on december 13, 1981, wojciech witold jaruzelski, first secretary of the polish united workers' party, imposed marshal law and outlawed solidarność. solidarność, founded in september 1980 at the lenin shipyards in gdansk (and led by lech wałęsa) provided the polish people an alternative and bulwark to the “communist” police state.
in 1981 the air traffic controllers in the united states went on strike, only to be nullified when reagan fired all 11,400 members of that union and permanently replaced them (while flight attendants, machinists, pilots, and other unions in that industry twiddled their thumbs). lane kirkland and the afl/cio machinery lamely excused their collaboration with reagan by citing patco’s endorsement of the republican in the 1980 presidential election. (horrendously, patco members were blacklisted for 12 years.)
who could keep a straight face when reagan orchestrated the january 1982 “let poland be poland” television propaganda program that vigorously promoted poland’s right to an independent trade union? (complete with frank sinatra singing 'ever homeward' in polish!) then there was reagan’s radio address to the american people (to explain suspension of most-favored-nation trading status with poland) that, to quote our then-president, called the outlawing of solidarność a “far-reaching step” in the polish communist government’s “persecution of their own people.” how dare they make their free union illegal,” he clucked. indeed! and how dare reagan fire thousands who refused to tolerate the dangerous situation then extant in our control towers—in a situation that common sense (not to mention passenger safety) dictated shorter shifts and fewer hours.
while reagan rightly cited the thuggish nature of poland's communist dictatorship, it was a little hard to take his platitudes seriously when he slavishly supported thuggish, murderous regimes elsewhere. to quote carlos fuentes: "let poland be poland—yes. but let el salvador be el salvador."
thus were the times 25 years ago!