Warsaw — ''Free Saturdays'' have become a political hot potato again.
Two years ago economists asked flatly: Can Poland afford the five-day workweek at a single stroke? The only answer they could give was no.
But Baltic shipyard workers, Silesian miners, and Poles at large were in no mood to count costs. A government on its knees yielded to virtually everything the strike-bound ports and pits demanded - independent trade unions, uneconomic wage increases, and all Saturdays off.
The pay hikes have fueled inflation. The shorter workweek has helped thwart an upturn in production and productivity.
''We can say on the whole we shall not be worse off than last year'' was a recent, hopeful official estimate for 1982.
''Free Saturdays'' have meant an often absurd weekend standstill, not only in production but also in the retail network and in most public services. All foodstores close. There is no fresh bread between Fridays and Mondays. Newsstands are shut, but Friday night's newspapers print enlarged weekend editions.
Second thoughts have been stirring for some time. Now the economic weekly Zycie Gospodarcze, whose editor was recently appointed to the Politburo, is airing the problem.
It is going to be a hard one to resolve. The newspaper's cross-section of opinion - from managers and workers - reveals a controversial social-political issue, quite apart from economics, however right the government may be about the necessity for everyone to work more productively.
The economists see a temporary return to Saturday work as essential to economic recovery. They claim ''voluntary'' surrender of the long weekend for three years will hasten recovery by three years.
Planning chief Zbigniew Madej is less specific. Nevertheless, he claims that return to a six-day week would produce ''immediate'' and quicker results than technological progress, since it will be a long time before Poland has the cash to buy new technology. ''We must make up for our backwardness unaided,'' he says.
Workers and managers have different views of the issue.
''It's not a matter of money or a six-day week for three years,'' a manager says. ''It's a case of showing in black and white what people will get for giving up their Saturdays. A promise that we get out of the crisis earlier won't help.
''People have lost faith in plans, promises, and declarations. . . . We need actions and results measurable in household standards.''
Other managers have reservations on economic grounds. Shortages and ''chaotic deliveries'' of rare materials cause wasted days in the present five-day pattern.
Some enterprises, it was said, cannot afford to pay for an additional work day, especially if it involves overtime pay.
The mines provide the economists' strongest argument. Under martial law, the miners accepted Saturday work for overtime. Coal output has moved strongly ahead of last year's disastrous level.
Before martial law, voluntary Saturday overtime work was arbitrarily blocked by Solidarity's egalitarianism. That served nobody's interests. Now Saturdays off have become a habit.
Some of those running revived, old-style enterprise works councils have begun to accept wage motivation - on the workers' terms. A chairman said most people would work Saturdays ''so long as it is their own decision.
''Impose it, and they'll simply work in a way that makes no difference to overall output.''