Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

THE TWO POLANDS but in Lodz, Poles Struggle as Reform Flounders

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

THE TWO POLANDS but in Lodz, Poles Struggle as Reform Flounders

Article excerpt

`WE curse Lech Walesa!" shouts Irena Hebel, trying to make herself heard above the racket of beating looms at the Dywilan carpet factory in Lodz.

Mrs. Hebel belongs to the Solidarity trade union, but the economic reforms introduced under the three-year-old presidency of Mr. Walesa, the father of Solidarity, do not agree with her one bit.

"It's wages," she says. They are not keeping up with the rising cost of housing, food, electricity, and heating. "I've got nothing left over at the end of the month," she complains.

And it's unemployment. Hebel counts herself lucky to have a job, but many of her friends don't. Lodz (pronounced Woodj) is a one-industry city, 60 percent dependent on textiles. The industry, however, has collapsed along with its former prime market, the Soviet Union.

In Lodz, unemployment has reached nearly 18 percent, making it one of the most depressed major cities in Poland. It is typical of many regions in Poland that have been left behind by economic recovery. Poles in these areas have had to watch while their countrymen have prospered in other, more economically adept cities.

"It's much, much worse than it was five years ago," says Hebel. "My friends think communism was better than what we've got now."

Lodz has seen strikes and demonstrations, including a march protesting hunger. Boguslaw Grabowski, governor of Lodz Province, predicts that social tension in the area will become more dangerous over the next years - even if the standard of living improves and there is an increase in industrial production (which has plunged 60 percent over the last three years).

"Revolution starts not when conditions are the worst, but when the gap between expectations and experience is the highest," he says.

For example, it used to be that people from Lodz who visited Warsaw could notice little difference between the two cities, Governor Grabowski explains.

"Now, there's more and more of a difference. In Warsaw, five or 10 new hotels have gone up, and not even one in Lodz," Grabowski continues. "People start thinking, `Why? I live in the same country!' " The difference is made even more noticeable because wages in Lodz are about 17 percent below the average Polish wage of roughly $200 per month. …

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