Strike threat and Russian warning cloud Polish horizon

Poland is entering the fourth week of a 90-day "no-strike" period with a stern warning from the Soviets and the appearance of the first cloud in Poland's industrial sky since mid-February.

The warning was an implicit admonishment to the leadership here to move faster and more decisively to shore up the position of the Polish Communist Party.

It came after Soviet President Leonic Brezhnev met March 4 with Polish party chief Stanislaw Kania and Premier Wojciech Jaruzelski, at the close of the Soviet Communist Party congress.

Mr. Brezhnev, who had conferred individually with other Warsaw Pact leaders during the congress, was speaking for all of them. A communique indicated he again assured the Poles of the alliance's "complete essential support" and restated Soviet confidence in their ability to handle their crisis. But its wording also suggested the Poles had been told in the strongest terms yet that the Kremlin is not happy about developments here -- even though the public mood has been calmed by the new government.

The communique declared the bloc's conviction that the Polish communists have both the capability and the strength to "reverse the course of events" and to liquidate the threats "hanging over" Poland's socialist achievements. Its ambiguity may have been intentional -- so it would be read here as a further warning to militants in Solidarity, among the farmers, and on the campuses.

A less-publicized passage in Mr. Brezhnev's speech to the congress suggested he is well aware of the immense task the Polish party faces as it tries to bring social and industrial peace to Poland. He wants to push Mr. Kania and General Jaruzelski to firmer action, but not to overdo it.

Events in Poland, he said, showed how important it is for his own party to heed the voice of the masses. Speaking of the Soviet Union's domestic problems, he said what was under discussion -- production of food, consumer goods and services -- was "part of the everyday life of millions and millions of people."

"People go to shops, canteens, laundries, etc., every day," he said. "What can they buy? How much time do they spend on all sorts of household chores?"

It might have been Mr. Kania or his premier speaking of shortcomings here. Meat has been in very short supply for some time. Then butter and cheese -- and finally milk --became just as scarce.

The past week has seen queues for dairy items as long as those outside the butchers. "My wife and I went shopping together yesterday," a middle-aged professional man told me. "And we got nothing. No butter, no cheese, no milk --nothin!"

The cloud darkening the labor-peace horizon flows from the arbitrary firing a month ago in Lodz of five employees at a police hospital. The five were founding members of the local Solidarity chapter.

The colonel in charge allegedly blocked union members from holding jobs there. (The draft of a new law on labor unions precludes members of the armed forces and related services and their civilian employees from joining a union.)

Solidarity has protested that its several appeals for government intervention were ignored and has called a strike alert in all local factories, pending a final decision at the weekend.

[Reuters reports that Jacek Kuron, a leading Polish dissident and adviser of Solidarity, was picked up by police March 5 and told he was being investigated for suspected slandering of the state. He was later released.]

The Moscow communique omitted customary allusions to "anti-socialism" and the like. But there is a striking first reference to "imperialist and internal reactionary forces" counting on the Polish crisis leading to a general weakening of the international communist community.

The statement's real thrust, however, is at the party itself. The Russians will probably help the Poles with their economic problems, but there is likely to be pressure on the Polish party to assert itself much more forcefully. It will be expected to return to an approved, normal course, even if it means turning the clock back on party "democratization."

It remains to be seen whether this could be done without finally risking "losing" the party and its mass worker base.

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