Stanislaw Handzlik & Maciej Mach, 30. 5. 1989, ?


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Date 30. 5. 1989
Length 19:14

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When Solidarity was founded in the Nowa Huta Steelworks and you joined it, why did you feel the need for something like this — such a trade union?

Maciej Mach: You start.

Stanisław Handzlik: Am I supposed to start? Well, you know… Gierek’s decade was coming to an end and, in its first half, it gave us some hope for a better tomorrow. However, from the mid-1970s, things started to get worse. You would see that the crisis was coming — in front of the shops, the lines were getting longer — but official propaganda still ranked us as the 10th power in the world. It was, of course, annoying for everyone. Everyone knew that something had to change, that the hopes awakened in the first half of the 1970s had to be fulfilled in some way, you know. So Solidarity was our hope for a better life.

Maciej Mach: That’s right. Besides, the need to take action in the independent trade unions, in Solidarity, was also something that the people who were active in KOR, the Workers’ Defence Committee, had paved the way for after 1976. Their massive effort, which was put into the rebuilding of awareness, into getting information to the people, showing the truth that should reach them. Well, it generated a certain impulse and a certain need to join a wider group of people, so to speak. We also became part of it, you might say. And…

Let me interrupt. Maybe you could say specifically what it was about, what your hopes were for this trade union.

Maciej Mach: All right. So with the trade union in general, with Solidarity, we had such hopes that it would at last be an institution or an entity, a body that would be chosen by us, would represent our interests, the interests of workers, the working people — not only workers because, you know, Solidarity is not just about the workers: it is also about intellectuals, artists, painters; the interests of employees, working people in Poland.

You mean they hadn’t been represented before?

Maciej Mach: No, of course they hadn’t. Until then, it had been imposed top-down, so to speak, and the CRZZ [Central Council of Trade Unions], which was supposed to represent the interests of workers and working people, did not represent these interests. It was, in a way, an extension of the party and what the party decided, well, they would do it, you know, regardless of the situation of the workers, of the working people in general. Which is what is being done at the moment, six years after the imposition of martial law, by the OPZZ [All-Poland Alliance of Trade Unions] and the new unions established in workplaces.

Solidarity was crushed. We want to know what happened after that. Could you describe the stages from 13 December onwards, without going deeply into the details of the strike, but describe the sudden beginning and then how the ‘normalisation’ was carried out?

Stanisław Handzlik: Well, we all know that on 13 December came martial law and, of course, there was a fierce public protest, especially in the early days when perhaps the intimidation factor was not so much at play yet. And our plant, namely the Steelworks in Kraków, of course, started a strike—a rotational sit-in strike. And we believed that we were strong, that other Kraków-based plants were also on strike. It was true that they went on strike at first but not to the degree we had thought, you know. In any case, the strike at the Steelworks continued, of course, and during these 3 days… 3 days and 3 nights — we felt that we would be able to make it, that we were the largest plant in Poland, that the authorities would still fall back, that they would want to talk to us. It didn’t happen because on the night of 15/16 December tanks entered the Steelworks. The Steelworks was subdued and then months of the martial law darkness followed, when the workers of the Steelworks showed many times that they continued in resistance — not only the workers themselves but the entire city district, which at that time, next to Gdańsk, Warsaw and Wrocław, was considered the place in Poland which simply put up the greatest resistance to what had happened.

Apart from breaking strikes as a first response, internment and arrests, what were the methods used by the authorities? You mentioned that the police, the security forces here are very strong.

Maciej Mach: Apart from the direct methods they used, there was a whole range of indirect measures, so to speak, like the militarisation of the Steelworks, where failure to come to work and to report and so on, or breaking ranks or trying to go on strike would result in from a one-year sentence to death penalty, that was what you risked getting — there was even an official order for that. Besides, there was a huge pressure from the management on the workers, which was related to financial matters. Well, another such measure was, unfortunately, the operation of the security service — the security services and the police — which in many cases acted with great brutality and their interventions often ended even in death. Like in 1982, with the death of our colleague, a worker from Nowa Huta, Bogdan Włosik, killed in front of the church during mass. This was an occurrence which can characterise that period. You might say, it was the first stage because, while my colleague here was talking about the imposition of martial law and the strike, the next stage covered the months right after the strike, when most of our co-workers who were full-time Solidarity activists, or generally had some management functions in Solidarity, were either interned or sentenced and imprisoned. So then there was this gap, a void that had to be made the most of in some way. Within that space, various secret Solidarity cells began to emerge and they even operate to this day with greater or lesser success. This was basically the next stage that I was referring to. It was simply to keep what Solidarity had gained over its 16 months: the awareness in the workers so that the communists would not enter this void with their propaganda, their press and their impact on these people. Besides, there was also a question of helping the families and the workers themselves, who were doing time in internment facilities or in prisons. And the construction of an alternative information circuit — our own press, books and so on. The next element that is also connected with it and, so far, has continuously been associated with it, is signalling to the general public of Kraków, Nowa Huta, Poland or even the world, that we exist, that we persist. And then there were demonstrations. I read somewhere recently a short summary about this form of protest in Nowa Huta, about demonstrations and so on: over the past 6 years in Nowa Huta, in Nowa Huta alone — 41 independent demonstrations, marches and gatherings took place. So for a district, which can even be called a communist city, with over 200,000 people, which was supposed to be a model district when built, a communist district, with Stalinist architecture, you know, in the centre of Nowa Huta, its Central Square and the Steelworks management building constructed in the Stalinist style — it was all supposed to be some kind of bastion of communism or a model district for the whole of Poland; to be communist, you know, atheistic, without a cross and simply give in to everything and be subordinate to the party. After martial law was imposed, this very district became, you could say, one of the most rebellious cities of all, with over 200,000 people, it is a city, right? In Poland. Demonstrations, rallies and all. We are defiant and we will stay defiant until something changes.

Could you say in literally one sentence why you think things happened that way?

Maciej Mach: Well, all this is due to the people who were active in Solidarity—our colleagues who, unfortunately, are now either in exile or cannot be active at the moment. It was about the opening of eyes for the people who had been such a silent mass until now. It’s several thousands of them.

I would like to ask you about the “normalisation”. How is it progressing, is it effective?

Stanisław Handzlik: Well, it’s a well-known fact that the goal of martial law was to “normalise” the society, first of all by intimidating it to such an extent that it would be passive to any and all actions of the authorities and the point was for the society to remain in this state for years to come. Well, the authorities would like it to stay this way forever, you know. And have they succeeded? I would say that if the people are passive at the moment, it is only a temporary passivity that will obviously end one day. And the people will stand up for their rights. I would simply call it the calm before the storm.

Maciej Mach: It’s a volcano. Stanisław Handzlik: It is a volcano — that’s right.

Maciej Mach: A volcano that, for now, is ever so slightly steaming and starting to smoke but boiling inside. It is covered with a kind of shell, which is systematically crumbling and cracking, and it certainly must break. Stanisław Handzlik: And this passivity, which the authorities wanted so much, has taken over all areas of life. Of course, I’m talking about that part of the society, the silent one, you know. But it also impacts the authorities themselves. They wanted political passivity and now they have it but, apart from the political passivity, they also have economic passivity, you know. There is talk of economic reform but how can such a reform be implemented by a passive society? So this action of the authorities also hit back at them, didn’t it?

Maciej Mach: It’s a passive society, a society that does not believe the authorities at all.

Let me simply ask you about the anecdote on how the authorities tried to win the people over.

Stanisław Handzlik: Well, it took place last year. On 1 May, a mass was announced at the [Lord’s] Ark church in Nowa Huta and, of course, after the mass, we were to have our independent Solidarity march. But there was a surprise because on 1 May, in the morning, people who were rushing to the church to attend this particular mass noticed that the entire access road to the church was blocked with trucks selling all the items that you couldn’t buy in shops on a daily basis. There was literally everything: there was canned food, there were citrus fruits, there was tourist gear, sports equipment. And, of course, a product that was the most sought after in the People’s Republic of Poland: toilet paper. And I was the one to remark that on 1 May, the working people’s holiday, people who were laden with rolls of toilet paper were walking right there, next to the church. So it was in such ways that the authorities tried to buy people and in this way to nip the demonstrations in the bud, you know, because these vehicles stood on the route of the planned march.

And did they manage to nip this demonstration?

Stanisław Handzlik: Yes, it’s a fact that some people just came there especially for this sale. I don’t suppose the attendees of the mass took part in it, though. But due to the fact that the route was blocked with these vehicles and that there were police troops standing further away, the demonstration did not take place as such. There was only a local one in the place where Włosik died. But there was no march.

Maciej Mach: You might say that the example that my colleague here quoted is very humorous. But when it comes to how the authorities are trying to put pressure on people in workplaces, well, this can be seen, for example, when it comes to housing. There are many young people who apply for apartments because it is a basic need for a family — their own place, their own apartment. Well, at the moment, there is a lot of pressure from the authorities that you must belong to trade unions, sometimes even to the party, depending on how much they are concerned with the person. And people who do not belong to the neo-unions [supported by the authorities] or to the party have virtually no chance to get their own apartment. The waiting time to get an apartment is shorter if the matter is handled by the workplace instead of a housing cooperative, which is supposed to handle this, because there you would have to wait for an apartment for 30 years. To illustrate: you can become a full member of a housing cooperative as an 18-year-old, being of age, and wait for 30 years, which means that you will get your own apartment at the age of 48.

I have a last question about the state of the party at the Steelworks at the moment. What is the communist party like at the moment?

Stanisław Handzlik: Maciek, why don’t you take this one.

Maciej Mach: Well, it depends what you would like to know — the numbers or its role, effectiveness, or impact on people, impact on the economy and so on. So when it comes to the numbers, they are in fact very small. As a percentage, it can be estimated at 7% to 8% within the Nowa Huta Steelworks. This is the upper limit. But when it comes to the party members’ importance and such, it is because they occupy all positions starting from the mid-level supervisors, I mean the section managers, department managers, up to the management and so on… Stanisław Handzlik: …even the foremen now, you see… Maciej Mach: …even the foremen so it would seem that there is a huge role. This could indicate that these are the people who should have a decisive role in production, management and the economy. Except that these are simply people who owe everything to the party and the only thing they have is that they are party members — no skills, no aptitude …

They are unimpressive?

Maciej Mach: That’s right, unimpressive.

Stanislaw Handzlik & Maciej Mach (1943,1955)

Stanislaw Handzlik & Maciej Mach

Stanislaw Handzlik (born January 21, 1943) - Polish worker, trade unionist and local government activist, an oppositionist during the Polish People's Republic, MP in the first term. In 1980 he joined the Solidarity movement and was one of the union leaders in the Lenin Steelworks and the Malopolska Region. During the martial law he was in hiding for half a year after the pacification of the strike in the steelworks on December 16, 1981. He was arrested about six months later and sentenced to four years' imprisonment. After his release in 1984, he cooperated with underground magazines.

Maciej Mach (born August 3, 1955) - Polish worker and trade unionist, an activist of the democratic opposition during the communist period. In September 1980 he joined "Solidarity" and was a secretary of the departmental committee. After the introduction of martial law he organized a strike in his workplace. He was a co-founder of the Solidarity Rescue Committee HiL and the Solidarity Rescue Committee Nowa Huta. He was also an initiator and coordinator of the Secret Steelworkers Workers Committee. In the second half of the 1980s he was a co-editor of "Solidarność Hutników" and in 1987 he was a member of the founding committee of "S" at the Lenin Steelworks. In 1989, he joined the regional Civic Committee in Cracow. In 1993, he co-founded the Non-Partisan Reform Support Bloc organized by Lech Wałęsa.