Young Polish strikers dig in. But government's strategy to isolate workers takes its toll

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

A fortnight of industrial unrest in Poland has dwindled to a ``last stand'' by younger strikers still holding the fort in a section of the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk. Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, formally on sick leave but still with them in the yard, apparently feels the time has come to call it a day.

``He would like to lead the men out of the yard in what would be an orderly `victory march' of tremendous propaganda value, not yielding to force but of their own free will,'' says a Western source who was able to enter the yard Monday.

But the defiant young strikers seem determined to see the protest through to the end.

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News of a sympathy action at the big Ursus tractor plant in Warsaw initially buoyed hopes among the strikers at Gdansk. But Ursus action seems to have involved no more than a few hundred of its 15,000 workers.

Government spokesmen charge that the Western reporting had inflated the current ``crisis'' out of all proportion.

There is certainly little in the atmosphere or the conduct of life in the capital city to suggest a country teetering on the brink of political crisis. Mr. Walesa's call for nationwide protest over the painful price increases imposed by the government's economic reforms had little impact.

The crisis of 1980-81 is not being repeated - not yet at any rate. But conversations on both sides of the Polish national divide leave little doubt that most of the ``wounds'' from the 1980-81 crisis remain.

Party officials, as well as independents and government opponents, say that government's use of force to break the biggest of the three strikes that took place (at the Nowa Huta steel plant) was a blunder.

This is not yet officially conceded, but it was reportedly a major part of a talk last week between Politburo member Kazimierz Barcikowski - co-chairman of the church-state commission on religious affairs - and the Roman Catholic primate, Jozef Cardinal Glemp.

The crackdown at Nowa Huta aroused widespread anger and frustration over what was seen as the weakness of the regime's commitment to more democracy in Polish politics.

Critics see it also as evidence the government had no contingency plans for the actions erupting in the last few weeks.

``They reacted one way at Bydgoszcz [where the first of the strikes was promptly bought off with big pay increases] and in another, utterly unnecessarily drastic way at Nowa Huta, and then again in the shipyard,'' said one critic.

Now, in Gdansk, the government seems to have resisted the use of force. The government's strategy seems to be to isolate the Gdansk strikers - cutting off supplies of food and medicine - and the tactic appears to be achieving its end. ``Believe me, we shall overcome this crisis this week.'' a senior government official predicted.

(Reuters reports that the Polish government said on Tuesday it was backing away from plans to ban all strikes and disputes by official trade unions for the rest of the year. But government spokesman Jerzy Urban said no labor protests of any kind would be permitted against sweeping new emergency measures that the government planned to implement to speed up the country's economic reform program.)

In spite of official support for Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of glasnost (openness), Polish press coverage remains limited to reports from the official news agency. Reporting by independent local observers has been conspicuous by its absence.

The Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk, where the Solidarity trade union movement got its start 8 years ago, has been losing money for many years. But only now is it being presented as a suitable candidate for the government's economic reform policy of phasing out unprofitable enterprises in the interests of market economics. No doubt some suspect a political significance in this, a move to eliminate an uncomfortable, pre-eminent symbol of the ``enemy'' - Solidarity.

Events of the past two weeks, even the scenes in the Lenin Shipyard, are not really a true echo of 1980 and the heyday of Solidarity. But many of the basic motivations are similar: the failure of this government to institute a better rapport with the Polish nation at large.

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