VATICAN CITY, NOV. 11, 2003 ( John Paul II urged Solidarity, the labor union that played a key role in communism's downfall in Poland, to come out in defense of workers again. He also lamented the union's politicization.

"All workers, regardless of who is in power in the country, depend on your help in defending their lawful rights," the Pope said today when he met with representatives of the historic organization, among whom was former Polish President Lech Walesa.

During the meeting in Paul VI Hall, the Holy Father reminded his audience of the 1980s when Solidarity confronted "the programmed suppression of man's freedom, the humiliation of his dignity, and the negation of his fundamental rights."

The union's action was decisive in bringing about "peaceful changes" which in 1989 "prevailed over hatred and the desire for vengeance and became the seed for building a democratic state," the Pope said.

However, those events "seem to be forgotten with time," especially among young people, he lamented.

Yet, the "urgency to guarantee the dignity and efficacy of human work has not lost its importance," John Paul II continued. He mentioned the current labor problems in Poland, including unemployment, temporary work and layoffs "without any concern for the plight of employees and their families."

"It is necessary that your union openly defends workers who are denied the right to speak out, or to express opposition to the phenomena that violate the fundamental rights of the worker," the Pope said. In particular, he pointed to the default in the payment of salaries, "a grave sin that cries out for vengeance from heaven."

Speaking in Polish, the Pontiff said that the politicization of the union, probably due to historical necessity, "has led to its weakening."

He concluded: "If Solidarity really wants to serve the nation, it must return to its roots."