Solidarity, Freedom and Economic Crisis in Poland, 1980-81
During the 1980-1981 the economy in Poland was gradually becoming worse. As a result of the high inflation and inadequate supply in food and other products this time can be called "a period of wild economy". The price of dollar was increasing rapidly and the product exchange for other product rather than money became widespread.
Please read the previous two articles about food problems:
Problems with Food in Poland during Communism, (Part I) and
Food Problems and the growing political Opposition in 1976-1980 (Part II)
As I mentioned in the previous articles the first ration coupons were implemented after the sugar panic in July 1976 when prime-minister Piotr Jaroszewicz announced and later denounced (after strikes in Radom and Ursus) the sharp food price increase.
Everybody except people working in some especially privileged occupations was receiving 2 kilo of sugar per month. This situation had very bad consequences for Polish confectionery industry and also for apiarian (honey) industry. These businesses were able to receive some additional sugar but usually at much higher price and also in limited amounts.
The supply in food was becoming gradually worse. The stores, called "Pewex" or "Baltona", where people were able to buy products (cloths, electronics, food and alcohol) only in dollars and other hard currency were growing like mushrooms after the rain. Ironically, the price of the dollar on the black market was regulated for many years (mainly 70-80) by the price of vodka.
The implementing of the ration coupons for meat in a case of insufficient supply was guaranteed as one of the points of the Solidarity Workers' Union agreements (August, 1980) with the government. The August Solidarity agreement so important from political reasons had a negative impact into the economy and product supply because it promised everybody the raise in salary which was not compensated by a better product supply. The central and local agreements with workers unions were promising more benefits for their workers, increase in salary for less working hours and longer vacations. This kind of social improvement might be implemented in the countries with stable economy but it did more harm than benefit in Poland even to people who demand and receive the most economical benefits.
Situation was so bad that many local governments in different parts of Poland decide to ration many different food products in the second part of 1980 year. The products which were locally rationed were usually meat, sausages, butter or cigarettes. Many food products were not even distributed in the open sale but through the internal shops that belonged to the certain companies to avoid sale to the people from outside the region. Also the Workers Unions were involved in the distribution of the potatoes, onion, mustard and whatever possible. As I mentioned in the very beginning of the article the Polish currency, called "zloty" became so weak that many companies were directly exchanging the products rather (for instance the radio sets for potatoes) than sell their products for money.
In this time the only food products that were available in the stores in Krakow where I lived, were pickles and vinegar. For all the other products including the most basic like bread, butter, cheese, one have to wait in line because every amount of these products was immediately sold out. The situation was not much better with non-food products. Several times I had to stand in line for wash powder for several hours in order to buy some limited amount of a product. If there were no people standing in front of the store it meant that there was just nothing there - only empty shelves.
If there was a new product delivered, the lines of people waiting grew very quickly - sometimes people were entering the line without even knowing what they would get, since everything was so precious. It was a bit like haunting for gold. We did not say that we "bought" products, we "captured" (or "conquered") products just like people conquer Mt. Everest. After a purchase a satisfaction was often tremendous, unknown to people from rich Western countries where food and other products were so easy to buy. This time of establishing s Solidarity Free Workers Union and also the first serious problems with supply (1980-81) was still a time of hope. The rate of people committing suicide decreased sharply. People had big hopes for the future. They believed that soon everything will go in a better direction in spite of the temporary problems of everyday life.
Read the next article of this series entitled Food Problems: how the Economy hit its low but was finally healed (Part IV). Check Brief history of Solidarity.
I recommend a book written by Timothy Garton Ash, Timothy Garton Ash, entitled: The Polish Revolution: Solidarity (Third Edition)