The Post's editorial "Who's Free, After All?" (Aug. 15) takes a narrow view in dismissing comparisons between President Reagan's hailing of the Polish workers' struggle versus his treatment of American air traffic controllers.

The Post correctly considers it "absurd" to suggest that "things actually are freer in Poland." However, it's precisely the contrast between the two political systems that makes so disturbing the parallel in attitude leaders of both governments display toward civil disobedience and protest. Using the full force of the presidency in an attempt to crush PATCO is the "moral equivalent" of sending in the tanks.

For the president to justify his rigid, uncompromising stance on the basis that the controllers' strike is "illegal" is simplistic and anachronistic. How would he have reacted 11 years ago in President Nixon's place when 175,000 postal workers walked off the job? The Nixon administration, which wasn't known for being soft on organized labor, expressed great outrage over the illegal strike, but was wise enough to leave the door open a crack for negotiation. When the crisis was resolved, both sides were congratulating each other for their responsible approach.

Labor history is replete with "illegal" strikes. Laws banning unionization and strikes in the private sector eventually were viewed as unjust and were changed as a result of unremitting disobedience. Similar legal restraints are steadily being modified in government service at all levels.

It should be obvious that when groups of workers feel strongly that they are being abused they will resort to the only weapon they have -- the collective withdrawal of their labor. That is generally a last resort. In fact, labor disputes are more common among workers who are flatly prohibited from striking. d

Reagan's display may have been popular with many Americans, but it is not the action of a responsible leader.