Polish icon, Nobel laureate Lech Walesa on UC campus labor disputes: ‘I don’t like strikes’

Lech Walesa met the press for about an hour on Wednesday at the Hilton Garden Inn Old Town.
Lech Walesa met the press for about an hour in the Old Town. He is planning a visit to Mexico City this weekend. Photo by Chris Stone

Nearly 50,000 graduate students and others are picketing UC campuses across the state, but Lech Walesa is not a fan of their tactics.

“I don’t like strikes,” the former Polish president and union icon told reporters on Wednesday. “I think all problems should be solved through negotiations” – with the help of a computer to find “common ground”.

A white-haired Walesa, 79, spoke through an interpreter at the Hilton Hotel near Old Town ahead of an 6 p.m. lecture and Q&A at the University of San Diego.

In a small conference room off the lobby, the Nobel Peace Prize winner defied expectations in other ways.

Los Angeles-based court interpreter and actress Aleksandra Kaniak translated for Lech Walesa. Photo by Chris Stone

Although he reveres President Clinton for his role in helping Poland join NATO and the European Union, Walesa said, “Of all the presidents you’ve had, [Joe Biden] fights for everyone the best. … This president, I believe, is doing very well.

But asked about the prospects of an isolationist like Donald Trump coming to power – and threatening NATO unity – Walesa replied: “I don’t want to lecture the United States.”

He reiterated his belief that the United States is “a key leader in the world” but wants it done “in a new style”.

“If the United States doesn’t want to do this, they can hand over to Poland,” he said, “and we know what to do about that.”

He denounced Russian President Vladimir Putin for the war in Ukraine. But even if Ukraine wins, he said, Russia will start selling gas and oil “and make everyone dependent and they will rebuild.”

Walesa echoed NATO and Polish officials who are not prepared to blame Russia for the missile that killed two Polish civilians on Tuesday four miles from the Ukrainian border, saying: “We need to investigate further. thoroughly and make a wise decision”.

Wearing a shirt with the Constitution spelled out in Polish, Walesa said the climate crisis exists because “we don’t have good leadership in the world right now…. That’s why we’re making so many mistakes. … The development in the world is not done in a thoughtful way, but I have been saying that for 20 years.

He said Germany should take responsibility for climate efforts in Europe, joined by the entire United States.

Lech Walesa’s shirt bore symbols of Ukraine, Catholicism and its former Solidarity labor movement. Photo by Chris Stone

“This new world should be created by the United States and Germany,” he said. “It is your historical responsibility. That’s why I’m here — to remind you. Because future generations will not forgive us if we do not [act]. When that happens, I will watch over you from above.

Walesa – who says he doesn’t use social media – suggested that a “new era of globalization, intelligence and technology is unfolding. And we are somewhere in the middle. One fell and the other didn’t [been] yet fully created.

Communism, which he helped destroy, was designed by Marx and Engels, “very smart people”, he said, “but only in theory. They thought of something very cool, but it was impossible to implement.

He offered his definition of democracy.

That’s 30% of the Constitution and laws, 30% of people enjoying those laws and freedoms, and 30% of the financial wealth of the whole society. (He spoke to his 56-year-old interpreter, Aleksandra Kaniak, and the remaining 10% was scrambled.)

He said America had democracy, “but not in the right place,” he said. “Because who fights for democracy in your country is the capitalists, the rich. In our country we have no such capitalists.

Lech Walesa has repeatedly called for practical solutions to global problems, with the United States in the lead. Photo by Chris Stone

The more rich people there are, the fewer political parties there are, he said.

“If you want to improve your democracy, you have to look in which area [is lacking] … I look at everything practically,” he said.

With communism “so impractical,” he said, “all we have is capitalism, but all that capitalism is no good. We have too much competition,” plus populism and corruption “How can we stop? We have no brakes.”

Capitalism today is a frantic race between countries, he said. “And those people who are unable to keep up with capitalism end up unemployed.”

In a new form of capitalism, he would like to see a free economy where “the unemployed should be discovered and put to work”.

Walesa burst another American bubble.

“From what I understand,” he said, “every one of you can become president of the United States, right? Yes!”

But then he said he heard it took $100 million to run for the White House.

“Which one of you has 100 million dollars? None of you,” he said. “So [none] of you can or will be the president.

However, he did not want young people to stop dreaming.

“When I was fighting [for Polish freedoms], we were told: ‘You have no chance.’ I said, ‘What do you mean, I have no chance? I will show you.'”

But above all, be practical, he urged.

“Today in our politics we have too many theories,” Walesa said. “They…talk about all kinds of ideas that are practically impossible. So I think we should have people in our leadership who are practical. Not too.”

Walesa seems to trust the logic of the machine – like when asked to settle the UC teaching assistant strike.

“Why are you here? What problems do you have? OK good. We’ll put the problems in the computer. How many questions do you have? How many solutions do you want for…your problem?” He asked. are you going to meet to choose one of these solutions. …. Why don’t you organize problems like this?

Lech Walesa was due to speak at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the USD, with a visit broadcast live. Photo by Chris Stone

He said the labor talks should be conducted “without any emotion”.

Kaniak, hired by USD for Walesa’s appearances, skillfully translated the questions and answers with little emotion.

A court-certified interpreter of Polish descent in Los Angeles, who came to America in 1989, she said she had never been with Walesa before. His original goal: Hollywood.

Kaniak, in fact, has achieved some of his dreams — appearing in at least four movies (including 2019’s “American Bistro”), 10 TV shows (including “NCIS” and “NYPD Blue”) and even video games (voice off in the “Command & Conquer series”).

Do you work with Walesa?

“It’s a huge honor,” she said.


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