The leadership of the American labor movement will set up a special drive today to help union workers in Poland establish and maintain their newly won independence from government domination, according to Washington labor sources.
A statement and recommendation from AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland on establishing a Polish union fund is scheduled to be the first item of business before the AFO-CIO general board, composed of leaders of the federation's constituent unions. The meeting was called for the main purpose of endorsing the reelection bid of President Carter, who is scheduled to appear later in the morning.
Broad and open support for the Polish workers by American labor could add an explosive new factor to the still-delicate situation in Eastern Europe, in the view of U.S. diplomats. State Department sources expressed concern that such action could play into the hands of the Soviet Union, which has claimed in its official press that "anti-socialist elements" inside and outside Poland are behind the recent strikes.
The planned AFL-CIO action was discussed at a luncheon meeting yesterday of Kirkland and Secretary of State Edmund S. Muskie. No public statement was made afterward, but a State Department official said Muskie had presented "a negative assessment" of the labor federation's plan because of "the problems which it will cause" overseas.
The Carter administration has been cautious and low-key about the Polish workers' movement in order to avoid giving the Soviet Union an excuse to intervene with military force. The careful U.S. approach won praise from the government in Warsaw, but drew criticism from Polish-American groups favoring a more outspoken position.
The AFL-CIO executive council adopted a statement Aug. 20 backing the Polish workers verbally, and appealed to several international labor groups not to handle Polish cargoes while the strike at Gdansk continued. Until now, however, the U.S. federation has refrained from arranging or endorsing direct assistance.
A factor in Kirkland's new decision, according to labor sources, was a reported appeal by Gdansk strike leader Lech Walesa for "economic and moral assistance" from the outside to set up the new unions authorized in last weekeend's strike settlement. Walesa was quoted as appealing for support in an interview with a Norwegian newspaper.
Another factor in the AFL-CIO response, according to labor sources, was the public revelation last Sunday by United Auto Workers President Douglas Fraser that his union has aided the Polish strikers in recent weeks.
The UAW, which is outside the AFL-CIO, made its contributions through the International Federation of Metal Workers in Switzerland. That federation's secretary-general, Herman Rebhan, said yesterday that the aid program being spontaneously in West German plants, later joined by Austrians, French another western unionists as well as the UAW, with more than $120,000 dispatched to Poland so far.