The Polish story

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THE story from Poland was different this time. The difference is enough to call for careful notice. It comes out in the chronology as follows. Aug. 16: One coal mine strikes.

Aug. 17: A second coal mine strikes and 600 workers walk out from the shipyards in Szczecin.

Aug. 18: Five mines on strike. Transport workers strike in Szczecin. Lech Walesa says he ``supports'' strikes.

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Aug. 19: Ten mines now on strike.

Aug. 20: Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, the Polish head of state, meets with his National Defense Council and says he will maintain law and order.

Aug. 22: Police charge a gathering of transport workers in Szczecin. Some are arrested. About 400 workers at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk on strike. Mr. Walesa enters shipyard.

Aug. 23: Solidarity leaders issue call for ``talks'' with government. Troops out in strength in Gdansk and Szczecin, take over control of streets, close off shipyards. Government announces a meeting on Aug. 31 of a ``special parliamentary commission'' to review and study Poland's economic problems.

Aug. 24. Five coal mines return to work. Government agents, unnamed, meet in Warsaw with Andrzej Stelmachowski, chairman of the Roman Catholic Intelligentsia Club, who has previously acted as an intermediary between government and Solidarity leaders.

Aug. 25: Mr. Stelmachowski goes to Gdansk and spends six hours with Walesa inside the Lenin Shipyard.

Aug. 26: The Polish interior minister, Gen. Czeslaw Kiszczak, announces he is authorized to ``meet quickly with representatives of various workers and social groups.''

Aug. 27: General Jaruzelski makes speech, broadcast in part on Polish television, in which he says it is time for a ``courageous turnaround'' to resolve Poland's economic and labor crisis.

Three things stand out from the record.

The strike was never general and seldom involved all the workers in any one plant or shipyard. The issue was not pushed hard. There were no street demonstrations of the kind that led to confrontations with the police and soldiers.

Police and soldiers were restrained. There was some bashing, but no reports of bloodshed. A few arrests occurred, but no major public confrontations. Mostly, police and strikers avoided direct conflict.

Backstage talks began at the end of the first week and the number of strikes seemed to decline as soon as word of the talks spread around.

The language used by both the interior minister and Jaruzelski suggests that the government is ready to deal seriously with ``representatives of various workers and social groups.''

Polish government spokesmen insist that the Communist Party of Poland must continue to be the only legal party. Pluralism outside that party is ``impossible.'' But they talk of the possibility of ``pluralism'' inside what they call ``socialism.'' In other words, government and workers are groping toward some kind of a formula under which the government would in fact negotiate with the leaders of Solidarity.

The Polish workers have not ``won'' their latest strike. But they seem close to winning something more important. The decision of the government to deal with their representatives means a recognition by the government that it can no longer govern Poland without the cooperation of the mass of workers.

The Polish government is seeking that cooperation.

The church is the intermediary between government and workers. Machinery for regular and continuing consultation must be set up. The government will hold out as long as it can against recognizing any political institution it does not control. But there is such an institution, and the government must deal with it on a regular basis.

The march back to democracy in Poland is slow and painful. Apparently it has started.

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