Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Trade Unions Take on Political Opposition Role

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Trade Unions Take on Political Opposition Role

Article excerpt

AMID natural exuberance at the result of last month's Albanian vote, veteran members of the dissident movement found it was almost too good.

The Democratic opposition took 92 of 140 seats in the new Parliament. The former communists won only 38 seats.

One long-standing senior figure in the anticommunist movement wryly responds: "We've just ended 45 years of one-party rule. We don't want to repeat it."

Everywhere except Romania, the old communist parties have been electorally reduced to irrelevance. But alternatives have yet to emerge to challenge the center and center-right coalitions now in power and already showing authoritarian inclinations. Governments in Hungary and in Croatia, for instance, have been quick to silence the press in the face of criticism.

Efforts are afoot in Poland and Hungary to rally independents of liberal and democratic leftist persuasions as well as committed reformers of the former regimes in a "restructuring" of the left. So far it has had little impact.

Small parties abound. In Poland, for example, 29 are seated in parliament, none with a solid electoral base. Traditional divisions of left and right no longer define politics, and the dominant tone is of resurgent nationalism.

In such a political vacuum, unions begin taking on traditional party roles of criticizing the government and representing the electorate. Unions are the only means of political protest and have become ever more militant in the process.

Romania's post-communist unions increasingly ignore the "political taboos" written into the law legalizing them last year. The more assertive trade unionists speak of founding a "social solidarity" party to contest the next elections. Czechoslovak and Hungarian unions are pressing for more influence in planning economic policy prior to legislative action.

Unfortunately for governments, issues turn mostly on economic reform, how radical it should be and how swiftly and uncompromisingly it should be carried out. …

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