Warsaw — The first vessel launched since mid-August -- a 6,500-ton cargon carrier for Brazil -- slid into the water from a slipway in the Lenin shipyard at Gdansk this week.
It symbolized a return to normal working conditions in the maritime north and much of the rest of the country. The strikes seem almost at an end, at least for the time being.
The one exception is at Kielce, a chemical-cement town in southern Poland where management reportedly provoked the workers into prolonging their strike with talk of a forfeiture of benefits should they join the new independent unions.
If the strikes are virtually over, however, the debate on the causes of the crisis and on the wide-ranging public demands for changes in the style of government that brought it about are not.
Tremendous ferment continues. Academics, researchers, and educationists are raising demands for greater scientific independence and intellectual freedom.
Journalists and teachers as well as industrial workers want new unions. Newspapermen in Krakow, Poland's second city, are even demanding that editors be elected by their staffs, not appointed by the Communist Party. Peasants employed in the state agri cultural sector are calling for farmers' unions.
The whole working class here seems to have gained an unprecedented degree of self-confidence and a new sense of purpose, while the Communist Party still has to find both.
An opinion poll conducted by the relatively liberal weekly Polityka suggests that not all Poles are skeptical r pessimistic about the prospects for reform. Two out of three polled were confident the crisis will lead to material improvements and more openness in politics.
Half of those responding singled out the new unions and the right to strike as the most significant gains for the future. Judging from the enthusiastic way the unions are being set up and the way workers are flocking to join them, it is , indeed, so. The authorities also are aware of this.
The Council of State has just announced the conditions for the unions' registration. Once the organizers have satisfied the courts that their statute is not contrary to Poland's "socialist" constitution and system, they may go ahead with full legal standing.
It may take time. There may be arguments. But this is the green light they have been waiting for.
In fact, if the regime lives up to its pledges for the new unions, they could prove to be the best thing a government in Poland has done since democratic work councils were introduced in 1956. The councils' powers were short-lived, usurped by the party within a few years. But had they been allowed to flourish, the later decade-by-decade crises might have been averted.
Lately, however, the sensitive issue of party privilege and evidence of widespread abuse of office for personal gain has rivaled the unions as a talking point, particularly among the party's own rank and file.
The gap it creates between ordinary members and party officials at all levels was bitterly criticized at a meeting of the Warsaw party organization. With 200 ,000 members, it is one of the country's largest.
"Things which ordinary people don't see, we do because we install the water at the houses and country villas acquired by officials at half the market price to ordinary people," said tn activist from the city water works.
Few apparatchiks enjoy such lavish lifestyles as that alleged against the former propaganda chief last month. But compared with the difficult conditions endured by the average Pole, many live in comfort that smacks of corruption.
The party admits this, though it claims corruption affects only a "marginal section." Its newspaper Trybuna Ludu Sept. 15 signaled a purge of all those whose "dishonesty and ostentatious living" brought public opprobrium on the party as a whole.
Thoughtful party members are carrying criticisms still further. Admitting past mistakes and disregard for moral standards is all right, they say, but it misses the fundamental point: to adjust methods of government to the new mood of the country.
It all sounds reminiscent of former Italian communist leader Palmiro Togliatti, who once said it was not enough to correct the abuses in Stalin's system. It was a question of changing the system that made the mistakes possible.
This is what many political minded Poles are saying now are they hope for better things. Much of the party rank and file -- as well as the reformers -- is looking for real democratization.
Leaders still are suspected of planning only "partial changes." "It is time to return to what was started in 1956 and then abandoned," a veteran party member said.