SOLIDARNOSC THREE YEARS LATER; Polish hopes for normalcy do not include a relaxed rule
It all began at 4:30 in the morning of Aug. 14, three years ago. Polish workers stood outside the Lenin shipyard at Gdansk handing out leaflets. ''Reinstate Ana Waltenynowicz,'' the leaflets said. ''And give a cost of living bonus of 1,000 zlotys ($33).''Skip to next paragraph
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Ana Walentynowicz - a middle-aged crane operator - had been fired as a ''troublemaker'' of the tiny Free Trade Union.
By mid-morning, a full strike of the yard's 16,000 workers was on, and the movement had spread to 50,000 workers in other industrial plants in Gdansk. The next day strikes spread to the sister port of Gdynia, and then to Szczecin to the west.
A full fortnight the strikes lasted, ending with the famous Aug. 31 agreements and the birth of reforms - foremost among them, Solidarity, the first free and independent labor union to exist in the Soviet Union's ''Iron Curtained'' Eastern Europe.
Today, it is all a matter of history, of bitter memories, and of a nation coming to itself after 19 months under repressive martial law. In the summer of 1983, there remains hope for some kind of return to ''normal'' - but the more relaxed forms of communist rule promised three years ago seem highly uncertain.
Shadowing hope of any kind, of course, is the economic situation. Having lifted martial law, the authorities clearly expect Western governments to now follow the Western bankers' example and begin to reschedule repayment of Poland's massive debts. Furthermore, they hope that rescheduling will in time reopen Western doors to them for urgently needed fresh credit.
Poland was due to repay Western governments $2.2 billion in 1982 and $2.9 billion this year, on a total debt of $17 billion. It owes Western commercial banks some $10 million, but cannot even pay the interest on the loans.
The outlook for the economy is not bright. As one West German banker said to this newspaper, Poland is ''still desperately insolvent'' and its repayments are destined to be as slow-paced as its internal recovery.
For most Poles, moreover, recovery is a down-to-earth matter of food lines, the quest for acceptable clothes and shoes, and some easing of a generally frustrating way of life.
The strike settlement agreements of August 1980 were strong on economic promise, much of it - as any economist knew at the time - far beyond budget sense and possibilities.
That initial 1,000-zlotys cost-of-living demand was immediately doubled. There followed a surge of demands for across-the-board rises in wages, social welfare benefits, and pensions. Undoubtedly such increases were needed. But they were way beyond the country's means. The workers' mood, however, was such that the government had no option but to say ''yes'' to everything.
It was the start of a process that still goes on today. The long-overdue economic reforms, designed to bring stability to the market for the first time since the 1950s, called for prices to rise to nearer their market level. But higher prices brought demands for higher wages, creating a price-wage spiral.
And even though inflation has been brought down from 105 percent in 1982 to 25 percent in the first half of this year, that spiral has not been broken. Wage increases in the first six months of 1983, at 29 percent, still outstripped price increases. Small wonder the bankers remain skeptical about the country's ability to repay its debt.
The cynic might say all that is left of the 1980 agreements is the Sunday morning broadcast of a Roman Catholic mass by the state radio, something for which the church pressed for years.