Polish-American leaders, disappointed with the near silence of the Carter administration on the labor crisis in Poland, yesterday said U.S. officials are unduly concerned with possible Soviet intervention in the affairs and asked the State Department to make a human rights issue of the dispute.
In a telegram to Secretary of State Edmund S. Muskie, leaders of Polish-American and eight other ethnic groups said that is "vital to the credibility of the United States with regards to its human rights policies and its commitment to the Helsinki accords for the United States to publicly support the reasonable requests of the Polish workers."
They suggested the United States and its allies "explore ways to help Poland out of its economic difficulties" and "develop a strong and balanced approach to what is occuring in Poland."
"This administration has made much of human rights and now at the very moment when the people of Eastern Europe are waiting to take us at our word, the government is silent," said Leonard Walentynowicz, executive director of the Polish American Congress' Washington office. "This is a time when the U.S. government should be strong and forceful in applying the doctrine of human rights."
The srike, which has resulted in the arrest of 19 dissident leaders and raised speculation of a possible show of arms by the Soviet Union, also drew support from U.S. labor unions. AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland said yesterday he has asked labor federations in Belgium and England to join in the International Longshoremen's Association boycott of Polish cargo, scheduled to begin Monday.
The strike by thousands of Polish workers for independent labor unions and political freedom, already affecting more than 250 factories and ports along the country's industrial heartland and threatens to cause food shortages. Until yesterday, it had drawn only restrained reaction from State Department officials.
But in response to the arrest of dissident leaders by Polish authorities on Wednesday the State Department yesterday made its first comment on the merits of the dispute, urging their release.
"We have seen the reports of the arrests," said a State Department spokesman, "and we have noted them with concern. We hope they will be released soon."
State Department sources said it was the administration's judgment that for the time being it would do no particular good for the Polish strikers to have the United States speak out too forcefully on their behalf.
"This is an indigenous Polish protest," one source said. "And we wouldn't give the Soviets an excuse for intervening by making it seem as though the United States somehow involved."
Rep. Edward J. Derwinski (R-Ill.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the State Department has "been too sensitive to what the Soviets might say or do instead of focusing on the issue in Poland." wHe accused the department of being "disinterested in what's going on in Poland."
"They're interested in placating the Soviets." Derwinski said. They're not concerned for the welfare of Polish workers."
U.S. officials have previously said the labor dispute is an internal matter that should be settled between workers and Polish authorities. Yesterday they reaffirmed that U.S. non-involvement.
But Polish-American leaders pressed the government to speak out. "The Pope has made statements. THE AFL-CIO has made a statement." said Walentynowicz. "All of these statements indicate the strong support for what the workers in Poland are trying to do." Walentynowicz said. "The government is supposed to take a leading role."