GDANSK, Poland (Reuters) – Solidarity, the trade union movement which led the Polish struggle against Communist rule, distanced itself on Monday from a visit to Poland by U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney, saying he supported attacks on unions in his own country.
Romney was in Poland on the third and final leg of a foreign tour aimed at burnishing his foreign policy credentials and demonstrating that he would be a viable alternative to U.S. President Barack Obama on the world stage.
Romney visited the Baltic port of Gdansk, cradle of Solidarity which toppled Poland’s Communist government in the late 1980s, where he met Lech Walesa, the shipyard electrician who led the union movement during that struggle.
“Regretfully, we were informed by our friends from the American headquarters of (trade union federation) AFL-CIO, which represents more than 12 million employees … that Mitt Romney supported attacks on trade unions and employees’ rights,” Solidarity said in a statement.
“Solidarity was not involved in organizing Romney’s meeting with Walesa and did not invite him to visit Poland.”
Romney is trying to avoid any further missteps after gaffes during the first leg of his tour, in Britain, generated negative newspaper headlines and criticism even from some of his own supporters. He came to Poland from Israel, his second stop.
In Gdansk, Romney, who has called Poland’s neighbor Russia the top “geopolitical foe” of the United States, tried to show that if elected president he would be a stronger ally to Moscow-wary Poland than Obama.
Hundreds of people were on hand to watch Romney and his wife, Ann, arrive at the Gdansk Old Town Hall for a meeting with Prime Minister Donald Tusk.
Romney and Tusk and their delegations talked for about 45 minutes, then Romney went to the building next door and met Walesa.
Walesa, who was Polish president for five years from 1990, effectively endorsed Romney in their meeting.
“I wish you to be successful because this success is needed for the United States of course, but for Europe and the rest of the world too. Governor Romney, get your success. Be successful,” he said.
Romney, a former governor of the U.S. state of Massachusetts, laughed heartily and thanked Walesa for inviting him.
Romney is to give a speech in the Polish capital, Warsaw, on Tuesday to conclude his week-long foreign tour.
“The relationship that our countries have is very important and it would be a high priority in a Romney administration,” said a senior Romney campaign adviser.
However, it may prove difficult in Poland for Romney to draw a sharp contrast with his Democratic rival in the presidential election because Polish leaders enjoy fairly strong ties with the Obama White House.
Walesa ended his association with the Solidarity movement several years ago following disputes over policy.
Solidarity is still known abroad because of its historic role in the collapse of Communism and the fall of the Berlin Wall. At home, it is now closely linked with Poland’s biggest opposition party, which promotes conservative social values.
(Additional reporting by Chris Borowski in Gdansk; Writing by Christian Lowe and Steve Holland; Editing by Tim Pearce)
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