Gov’t Abolishes Rationing of Meat, Ends Most Price Controls
WARSAW, Poland (AP) _ The government on Sunday announced the end of food price controls and meat rationing, despite warnings from Solidarity and from a Politburo member that the move could lead to huge price increases and unrest.
The announcement to go forward with former Prime Minister Mieczyslaw F. Rakowski’s controversial plan came one day after he was elected Communist Party chief to replace Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, who stepped down after being elected president.
The plan, which takes effect Tuesday, abolishes a seven-year rationing program for meat.
It has been called ill-prepared by the Solidarity trade union and by Politburo member Wladyslaw Baka. He quit as party secretary in charge of economic policy during the two-day party meeting that ended Saturday after Rakowski’s election.
″We cannot take responsibility for the social results of the operation being introduced by the government,″ Solidarity’s national executive commission said in a statement. ″There is a danger of outbreak of social dissatisfaction.″
In his first public comment on the elevation of Rakowski, Solidarity leader Lech Walesa told supporters outside St. Brygida’s Roman Catholic Church in Gdansk he was ″not going to get involved in party matters. ... I did not choose him, party members chose him.″
Stanislaw Debinski, a Solidarity representative for Wroclaw, said Rakowski ″did more harm in nine months (as prime minister) than the other governments did in 40 years. He is a guy who has the idea of maintaining the hard-liners in power. That’s why he was elected.″
Although Rakowski supports a radical restructuring of the economy, he acknowledges he is linked more with the party’s conservative elements than its reformist wing.
One of his first acts after becoming prime minister was to close the Lenin Shipyard, where Solidarity was founded nine years ago. He also played a major role in defending the suppression of the union after the introduction of martial law Dec. 13, 1981.
Rakowski, in the closing speech Saturday to the meeting of the Communist Party’s Central Committee, said the party is not looking for a quarrel with the Solidarity-led opposition,″but we will fight back if provoked.″
The official PAP news agency published on Sunday the text of his speech.
″We do not have to drop down to our knees in front of our political opponent,″ Rakowski said. ″We do not have to behave like a rabbit paralyzed by fear.″
″We are interested in real, constructive cooperation″ with the opposition, he said, ″but if such constructive cooperation does not come about, the nation soon will see who it can really trust.″
Rakowski has been widely criticized for his handling of the economy during his time in office. Inflation is in triple digits, and many basic food supplies are in short supply.
PAP said that under the new food program, stores will be allowed to buy meat directly from farmers starting Tuesday for whatever price they can negotiate, ending an administrative price system and a system of official meat-buying points.
Meat ration coupons, which since 1981 allowed each family member to buy five pounds of meat monthly from state-owned shops at controlled prices, will be abolished, the announcement said. Consumers always could buy additional meat at higher prices from private stores, but it was too expensive for many people.
Rakowski has said farmers are withholding meat and grain from markets because the prices they get are insufficient. He says the only way to pay them more to bring adequate supplies in stores is to charge consumers more.
The only food items whose prices will still be controlled are bread, low- fat milk, cottage cheese and milk formulas for infants, the announcement said.
The program contains ″some money″ to compensate consumers for the higher prices, but not enough to make up for the price increases, PAP said. It said details would be published Tuesday.
Baka warned that food prices could triple or quadruple under the program. He said those increases could lead to renewed wage demands unless precautions were taken before the operation, such as stockpiling reserves to counter panic buying and help people on fixed incomes.
″The present government’s overwhelming desire to introduce market mechanisms regardless of real conditions has been one of the most important factors aggravating the economic as well as social sitiuation,″ a party commission led by Baka reported last week.
″If the present line is continued, the economy may eventually collapse, which will turn society against the idea of reforming the economy to make it more market-governed.″
Jaruzelski was expected to present his choice for a new prime minister Monday for approval by the Parliament.
At the time of Rakowski’s election, two regional party leaders regarded as hard-liners were named to the ruling Politburo, as was a 43-year-old party secretary known as a reformer. Four veteran Politburo members resigned.
It appeared that Rakowski was attempting to balance various party factions within the Politburo. Before his election, he had appealed in an interview for party unity. He stressed the party must be pragmatic without losing sight of its Marxist origins and must become a party capable of winning elections.
In Poland’s freest elections in more than four decades last month, the revived Solidarity movement won 260 out of the 261 seats it was allowed to contest, prompting the party to explore how it can start to rebuild public support.