Triumphant Polish workers now wait for government to deliver

It was an emotional moment. On Sept. 1, by coincidence the anniversary of the Nazi invasion of Poland 41 years ago, the Baltic shipyards and hundreds of striking factories went back to work.

Uppermost in Polish minds, including those of the country's beleaguered Communist rulers, was immense relief at the end of the 17-day strike that had come dangerously near to collapsing the whole Polish economy.

But the joy of most ordinary Poles today is mingled with pride in what the strikers' demands may have achieved for the country at large. There is renewed hope for better days -- not only in improved material standards but in the regime's hitherto stifling style of government.

Nonetheless, a cautious "wait and see" attitude is also noticeable on all sides. Everyone recognizes that the settlement is at best a precarious one.

For the workers, who held out for freedoms previously unheard of in the Communist bloc, the agreement will really stick only when they are quite satisfied the regime means what it says. They will be watching to see that the agreed terms are legally guaranteed and genuinely carried out.

For the government, which gave way more than the strikers, the compromise still leaves it squeezed between Polish workers and a concerned Kremlin. Another meeting of the Polish Communist Party Central Committee is to be held shortly to make a "deep analysis" of the reasons for the strikes and their political and economic effects. It is likely to result in more leadership changes at the top.

Meanwhile, the Soviet news media are stepping up attacks on the Gdansk strike leaders, calling them "counterrevolutionaries" opposed to Polish "socialism" -- with implied criticism of the government's concessions to secure the return to work.

But the Kremlin, officials here say, still is anxious for the Poles to handle the situation for themselves. At least for the time being, they add, Moscow is not interested in anu further political shake-up of the Polish leadership.

The background to the Aug. 31 settlement's final signing after last-minute delays illustrated the strikers' continued distrust of the government. The overnight initialing by the strike committee and the government negotiator had sparked heated argument by some of the 400 factory delegates when they learned of its terms.

Criticism entered on the acknowledgment of the Communist Party's "leading role" and of the communist system. Some of the criticism sounded a strongly nationalist note.

A more realistic view, however, came from committee members and delegates. To them, the government's acceptance of their first and foremost demands -- the right to strike, with the full force of law behind it, and independent labor unions controlled by their own freely chosen and elected representatives -- are the most essential elements.

Indeed, the strikers' gains already are having a broader impact. The minister of mines traveled Monday to Katowice, capital of the Silesian mining region, in urgent response to a request from 30,000 miners and steel men for an agreement with the government on the lines of the Gdansk accord. it is likely to be the start of a countrywide "snowball."

The Gdansk settlement is, in fact, a quid pro quo agreement -- a compromise that, by classic definition, gives each side something but leaves neither fully satisfied.

The Communist Party conceded more than the strikers, however, and the workers got what they wanted most: legal strikes and independent unions. The communist leadership probably would not have been able to yield on such fundamental points without securing in return a pro forma acceptance by the workers of the party's role.

The workers do not relish the role of the party. But most seem to appreciate -- as does the Roman Catholic Church -- that they have to live with it, and that to oppose it is unrealistic, since it is the factor that would most likely prompt Russian interference.

The strike committee's sub-group of experts provided the substance of the agreement finally accepted by the government, and be joint communique issued at the initialing.

* It called for constitutional amendments to allow for the creation of new self-governing unions "on the platform of socialism," independent of party or state control and having the role of "depending the rights of the Polish workers."

* The new unions, it said, should not function as a political party, nor would they question the basic foundation of Poland's "socialist" system.

* The government undertook to respect the structure and functions of the new unions and promised there would be no discrimination between them and the existing official unions. Both would have the same, equal rights.

* It agreed to wage increases, especially for the lower paid, strict price controls, and improved distribution machinery to ensure better supplies to the markets.

Detailed proposals on wages -- in accordance with "economic possibilities," a point won by the government apparently with support from the strike committee's own advisers -- are to be worked out for presentation to the government this month.

At Szczecin, agreement between the government and the committee of delegates from the big Warski shipyard and numerous local factories had come earlier. This agreement not only embodied the new unions, the right to strike, and a pledge of no reprisals or recriminations against the strikers or their leaders. It also embraced government acceptance of the demand for freedom of speech and information, including greater access to the public news media for reliv gious denominations.

The government itself contributed to the holdup in the signing of the Gdansk agreement by making a clumsy move against the dissident workers' defense committee (KOR), initially the Gdansk leaders' information channel to the foreign press.

KOR's main figures, including its best-known leader Jacek Kuron, and Adam Michnik, were taken into custody without charges as a means of silencing them. At the weekend, at least 14 fo the 23 detained were formally charged under an article of the criminal code providing long jail terms for "participation in organizations with a criminal aim."

The Gdansk strikers made the dissidents' release a condition for final signature of the agreement. Vice-Premier Mieczslaw Jagielski promised to do what he could. When he returned from the Central Committee meeting in Warsaw which approved the agreement, he said the detainees would be released. Five of the lesser known ones were, in fact, freed the same day.

Were hard-liners in a seriously divided leadership responsible for the police move? Or was it taken to satisfy the Russians who been playing up their tired old theme of "anti-socialist forces" being behind any opposition, including this time and the Polish strikes?

It could be this latter explanation. The leadership here is undoubtedly aware of what must be going on in Soviet minds.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.