Poland Table of Contents

Poland's rapid postwar industrialization was supported by a combination of readily available natural resources, especially economically important minerals. After the era of communist economics and politics ended in 1989, however, industrial policy makers contemplated major changes in the balance of resource consumption.

Minerals and Fuels

Coal is Poland's most important mineral resource. In 1980 total reserves were estimated at 130 billion tons. The largest coal deposits are located in Upper Silesia in the southwestern part of the country, where large-scale mining began in the nineteenth century. Silesian deposits, generally of high quality and easily accessible, accounted for about 75 percent of the country's hard coal resources and 97 percent of its extraction in the 1980s. The Lublin region of eastern Poland was exploited in the 1980s as part of an expansion program to supplement Silesian hard coal for industry and export. But development of this relatively poor, geologically difficult, and very expensive field ended in 1990. A number of unprofitable Upper Silesian mines also were to be closed in the early 1990s.

Poland also has significant quantities of lignite in the district of Zielona Góra in the west and in two districts located in the central part of the country between the Vistula and the Oder rivers. This low-quality fuel has been used on a large scale for the production of electricity, despite its very damaging effect on the environment. Plans called for gradual reduction of lignite extraction and use in the 1990s.

Natural gas is extracted mostly in Upper Silesia, Lower Silesia, and in the southeastern part of the country. Production expanded in the 1960s and 1970s, then declined in the next decade. In 1989 domestic production covered 43 percent of the country's total requirement.

A major offshore oilfield was discovered in the Baltic Sea in 1985. Including that field and the older fields in the Carpathian Mountains in southeastern Poland, total oil reserves were estimated at 100 million tons in 1990. Poland remained heavily dependent on the Soviet Union for petroleum throughout the 1980s.

Large reserves of sulfur at Tarnobrzeg and Staszów in the south-central region make that material Poland's most important nonmetallic export mineral. Favorable geological conditions have supported large-scale operations in three mines yielding about 5 million tons annually. About 3 million tons of sulfuric acid, along with several other chemicals, are produced each year.

Poland has limited deposits of some nonferrous metal ores. The most significant is copper, which is extracted in large quantities at ten mines in Lower Silesia in southwestern Poland. Copper production expanded greatly after discovery of major new deposits in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1990 annual copper ore output was about 26 million tons, and 51 percent of electrolytic copper was exported. In 1982 Poland had the world's fifth-largest deposits of lead and zinc (which occur in association). The annual output of lead and zinc ores was about 5 million tons, supporting annual production of 164 thousand tons of zinc and 78,000 tons of lead. In 1990 about 76 percent of Poland's zinc and nearly all its lead were used by domestic industry.

Although Poland had some fairly large iron ore deposits, this ore requires enrichment before processing. Until the 1970s, the main source of iron ore was the district of Czestochowa; but output there declined sharply in the early 1980s, and other deposits were of poor quality or provided such small quantities that exploitation was unprofitable. The country depended on iron imports from the Soviet Union and Sweden to support the rapid expansion of the steel industry that was a high priority in the communist era.

Rich deposits of salt provide an important raw material for the chemical industry. Salt mining, which began in the Middle Ages, was concentrated in the Wieliczka-Bochnia area near Kraków until the middle of the twentieth century; then the major saltmining operations moved to a large deposit running northwest from ód in central Poland. Salt is extracted in two ways: by removing it in solid form and by dissolving it underground, then pumping brine to the surface. Annual output declined from 6.2 million tons in 1987 and 1988 to 4.7 million tons in 1989. Other mineral resources include bauxite, barite, gypsum, limestone, and silver (a byproduct of processing other metals).

Agricultural Resources

Poland's climate features moderate temperatures and adequate rainfall that enable cultivation of most temperate-zone crops, including all the major grains, several industrial crops, and several varieties of fruit. Crops are distributed according to the substantial regional variations in soil and length of growing season. The sandy soils of the central plains are most suitable for rye, the richer soil in the south favors wheat and barley, and the poorer soil of the north is used for oats. All parts of Poland favor potato cultivation; sugar beets, the most important industrial crop, grow mainly in the west and southeast.

Labor Force

At the end of 1991, about 30.7 percent of Poland's estimated population of 38.3 million lived in urban centers with populations of 100,000 or more. The priority given urbanization and industrialization in postwar Poland caused the urban working class to grow dramatically and the rural working class to shrink proportionately in the first decade of communist rule. This process slowed considerably over the next three decades.

In 1989 nearly 22 million Poles were of working age: 11.3 million men between the ages of eighteen and sixty-four years and 10.6 million women between ages eighteen and fifty-nine. The population was relatively well educated. In 1988 about 1.8 million people had a postsecondary education, another 7.0 million had a secondary education, and 6.7 million had a basic trade education.

In 1989 the total labor force of 18.4 million included 36.8 percent employed in manufacturing, mining, and construction; 25.7 percent in agriculture, forestry, and fishing; and 7.1 percent in transport and communications. About 12 million workers, or 70 percent of the work force, worked in the state sector in 1990.

The communist system was marked by major inequality of labor allocation. In spite of considerable overstaffing in both production and administrative units, labor shortages were a perennial problem in other areas of the economy. Unemployment began to grow in January 1990, partly as the result of the reform policies of the postcommunist governments and partly because of the collapse of markets in the Soviet Union and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), which were Poland's most important trading partners in Comecon. At the end of 1991, unemployment had reached 11.4 percent. Unemployment benefits, an unemployment insurance system, and some retraining were introduced in early 1990.

Wage increases in the state sector were controlled by a very steep tax on wages that exceeded prescribed levels. In the private sector, the labor market operated without such restrictions, however. Wages generally were low in the first reform years. In 1991 the average monthly wage was 2,301,200 zloty, not including agricultural labor and positions in education, health and social services, culture, law and order, national defense, and public administration. At that time, however, rents were low, electricity, gas, and fuels remained partly subsidized, and medical services were free.

In 1992 two nationwide labor unions existed. The Solidarity labor union (Solidarnosc) was internationally known for the decade of strikes and efforts to achieve reform that finally thrust it into a central political role in 1989. The National Coalition of Labor Unions, originally established by the communist government after the suppression of Solidarity in the early 1980s, became independent of state control in 1990 and began to compete with Solidarity for members.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress