A tough Polish port that found its identity in Solidarity

With its zealously restored Gothic churches, the castle of the Pomeranian princes, and its worn redbrick buildings, the city of Szczecin looks more German than the new concrete apartment blocks can make it look Polish. Ever since World War II, it has had the air of a city with a tough new population in search of an identity.

It began to find it in 1970 when workers in the Adolf Warski shipyard took to the streets in protest against food price rises. At least 16 died from police bullets.

And it was here, 10 years later, as much as at the sister shipyard city of Gdansk that a dream of free trade unions and elections was carried to reality by a strike committee representing nearly 400 enterprises.

There was no Lech Walesa here. No television cameras and worldwide publicity. No outside advisers.

In August 1980 workers here refused to have foreign reporters from East or West in the shipyard while their leaders hammered out a strike settlement with the government.

Now it is the local authorities and martial-law commissioners who shut out the press. This reporter was told that a visit with management was impossible, let alone a visit with workers.

''The director is away,'' the regional governor, Stanislaw Malec, said. Speaking with a deputy director was also out of the question.

The yard is ''militarized'' - as are most other key enterprises in Poland, but there were no soldiers outside. Both at the shipyard and in the city at large, a martial law presence is almost invisible.

The yard employs more than 10,000 people, and the clamor of metal and machinery backs up the governor's remark that the yard has ample orders and materials. Because of what he called ''its decisive importance'' to the economy , shipbuilding gets priority in present conditions of general shortages.

Szczecin is ''different'' from more obviously Polish cities, and people here are a different breed from those of the other Polish ports along the Baltic to the east.

Only some 10,000 residents stayed when the prewar population fled west from what was then German Stettin, leaving a city and port that had been 75 percent destroyed.

The daunting task of rebuilding was undertaken by settlers from many parts of Poland, but most came from the eastern territory that had been taken by the Soviet Union.

The emergence of Solidarity gave this ancient city with its youthful population an identity and focus.

Now the hopes of people here are suspended, like Solidarity itself. So are some of the key provisions of last year's workers' self-management program, which the Warsaw government is trying desperately to resuscitate.

Any reactivation of these ''enterprise councils'' is subject to ministry approval, but local authorities can take the lead. Generally, Mr. Malec claimed, the workers were in favor of their reactivation.

Managers, anxious to involve workers now that they themselves are under pressure to prove market viability and improve productivity, are beginning to back the concept.

The Warski yard again stands apart. It is not among the 16 local plants where self-management has begun. Unlike the ''underground'' in the Gdansk yard, Warski workers have made no conciliatory signal to the authorities.

Apparently, where employee councils have been formed or discussed, the workers want ''the same people as before martial law,'' Mr. Malec admitted as much.

That may not commend itself to the authorities. But in one ''self-managed'' enterprise I visited, no fewer than 25 of the 30 members of a newly elected council belonged to Solidarity. Director Witold Rusiecki did not seem worried.

It is the same with the citizens' committees of ''national revival'' designed to ease local difficulties. There are now 55 such ad hoc groups, it is said, active in 60 percent of local housing estates and enterprises.

But there are none in the shipyard. In the city, on the Aug. 31 anniversary of the founding of Solidarity, there were what Mr. Malec dismissed as ''small, insignificant incidents.'' No one was hurt and no teargas or water cannon was used. The yard remained quiet, he said.

To the side of its main gate is a simple iron tablet ''to commemorate all who died in December 1970 in the name of the solidarity of the working class.'' Apart from a tiny Solidarity flag in a side chapel of the St. Jacob Church, it was the only place here where one can see the word ''solidarity.''

But the shipyard workers clearly have not forgotten 1970 or 1980 - or the feeling of identity encouraged by events of those years. People are still wary of the government's intentions, for example, in the new union law slated for parliamentary consideration.

''There are still tensions in the air in there,'' a veteran official said, ''and the climate does not yet exist to remove them.''

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