With Poland's harvest: rain and a political hot potato

Heavy, continuous rains are beginning to worry Poland's hard-pressed government just when it looked as if a good harvest might serve as a first step out of its crisis.

There is nothing yet to suggest the disastrous proportions of last year's losses or of several years in the late 1970s. But the rain is doing serious damage to crops in some parts of the country, especially the southwest where, in addition to flattening fields of grain, it has caused enough flooding to warrant calls for emergency aid.

And now one of the political "hot potatoes" of last summer has come to the forefront of the ever-uncertain relationship between the government and the independent trade union, Solidarity.

It is another flashback to 1956, when demonstrating workers were gunned down in Poznan. This year's commemoration of the event has been remarkable because the government has finally, after all these years, pledged full and searching inquiry into who gave the orders to shoot.

An immediate sequel to Poznan was the establishment of the first workers' councils in Poland. This issue is now taking up a lot of television time and many columns in the papers as government and union debate their respective concepts of 1980's renewed promise of self-management in factories and other economic enterprises.

In 1956 workers' self-government mushroomed up under the reforms undertaken by the post-Poznan regime of Wladislaw Gomulka. It let the workers choose the directors of their enterprises. Old unions that had been no more than channels to take party policy to the workers were brushed aside.

But self-government was a short-lived experiment. Even the reformist Mr. Gomulka quickly saw the new councils as usurpers of the Communist Party's dominant authority. Not only did pilot factory councils dismiss unpopular managers, but their shop floors refused to elect Communists to the councils themselves.

Within a year, their wings had been clipped. The councils were replaced with "conferences of self-management" in which the workers were outvoked by a combination of official trade union and party groups.

That was the system until last August's strikes brought demands for a return to meaningful self-management. The new party leadership had no option but to concur.

The question of self-management remains a highly sensitive one for this, or any, communist-bloc regime. Vital differences are emerging between the government's draft bill and Solidarity's demands for changes in enterprise management. The new union is seeking changes as far-reaching as those of 25 years ago.

Even more than the arguments over the cutback in meat rations and the likely rationing of other essential consumer goods, the differences over self-management could spark the most serious conflict between the government and the new independent union movement since the start of the year.

The two drafts agree on many points. The crunch comes over the appointment of directors: Solidarity insists this must be the prerogative of the workers if self-management is to mean anything.

Moreover, the union insists also that the workers of an enterprise -- and not the "state" or nation at large, as the government draft has it -- shall be its owners with full rights over the activities and assets of the enterprise.

This, the government of Stanislaw Kania says -- as did Mr. Gomulka in 1956 -- is "syndicalism." And that is one of the cardinal forms of "revisionism" in the orthodox Soviet calendar of ideological erring.

"To agree," Prime Minister Wojciech Jaruzelski said recently, "would mean the transfer from all- national ownership to individual group ownership and property , incompatible with . . . the all-national interest."

The premier is working through a parliamentary commission to come to terms with Solidarity. But a head-on conflict cannot yet be ruled out.

Workers in many big plans are reported to be already preparing a project for the operation of "social," self-governed enterprises, without waiting for legislation to be enacted. Some are even planning to dismiss old and elect new managements.

A test run was tried by Solidarity members in the state airline with the recent strike threat over the choice of the director. That dispute was settled by a compromise conceding some but not all the union's demands. Obviously more such challenges cannot be ruled out.

"Everything can be discussed," Trybuna Ludu, the Communist Party newspaper says.

But the degree of a real self-management will depend on the final shape of the government bill and on the first national congress of Solidarity in September. Union militants can count on more rank-and-file support on this issue than on almost anything else.

Parliament meets today to consider a batch of bills on the long-delayed socioeconomic plan and budget for 1981 as well as the government's program for economic stabilization.

These are vital to the whole "renewal" process, including legal existence to the new unions and the new works councils.

Each is potentially explosive, though the public mood -- apart from its concern with the usual August vacation -- seems largely to be ready, indeed anxious, for compromise. If the government even minimally eases the current cruel food problems, compromise and industrial peace might at last have a better chance.

One more in the right direction has come from the United States decision July 28 to give Poland a $60.5 million low-interest credit to buy American corn. It will cover purchase of some 300,000 tons. If that gets here quickly, it could make all the difference in the two-to-three-month danger period ahead.

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