Polish leaders try to defuse spreading crisis
Pressed on every side, Poland's communist leaders are meeting to thrash out new tactics for solving the country's seemingly unending economic-political crisis.
"No sooner are settlements reached in one area or industry than new troubles and new threats of industrial action spring up in another," a Western diplomat commented.
In the past few months this has become the regular -- almost "accepted" -- pattern. At time of writing, a general strike was under way in one highly industrialized southwestern region; a stoppage was threatened in the mining heartland of the south; and widespread unrest has been predicted if the farmers' attempt to set up their own "Rural Solidarity" union is turned down in the Supreme Court ruling scheduled for Feb. 10.
At the same time, the Polish authorities lashed out against the nation's most prominent dissident organization, the Self-Defense Committee (KOR). The authorities accused the group, whose leaders have acted on occasion as advisers to the main independent Solidarity union, of antistate activities.
Except for the post-invasion background of continued protest in Czechoslovakia in late 1968, no Central Committee of an East European Communist Party has ever met under such pressures of internal unease and unrest -- let alone implicit external threat.
As the committee session opened Feb. 9, the general strike began in the province of Jelenia Gora, despite a proposal to continue union- government talks (which collapsed Sunday) here in Warsaw. Jelenia Gora has glass, ceramics, and other light and small industries. According to Solidarity, some 450 plants and factories joined the stoppage, as did transport and other services.
Simultaneously, talks between union representatives and Mieczyslaw Glanowski, the minister of mining, deadlocked in Katowice, capital of the iron and coal belt in the south. The miners warned the government the whole area will be struck Tuesday evening if a settlement is not reached.
Solidarity's national chairman, Lech Walesa, apparently counseled against the strike in Jelenia Gora. But local leaders pressed demands that include 15 personnel changes in the regional administration (three of those named have resigned) and the conversion of a planned party rest house and a sanatorium intended for the security service to public needs.
Such demands have became familiar thoughout Poland, and many regional leaders have been purged. The party leadership has begun to take action against official privilege and abuses, particularly in housing and the construction industry.
Solidarity's moderates sympathize with the strikers, but they are growing cautious about the way local demands are being incorporated into the broader area of essential trade union activity -- and escalating the already formidable pressures on the government.
The opening item for the party committee plenum Monday was a report on the party's work in creating conditions in which the new independent unions can function and show their "socialist character." Solidarity, with its tremendous growth and scope and official recognition, is the special target for thrill comment coming from East Germany and Czechoslovakia over the whole "renewal" process promised by the new leadership here.
The leadership is increasingly voicing its own concern at what it sees as actively antiregime influences within the union movement.
It has hinted at stronger action against dissident groups. Conceivably more likely is a harder line in industry vis-a-vis Solidarity and the allegedly "political" and "counter- revolutionary" tendencies in its leading ranks.
The government may also decide that, from sheer economic necessity, it has no choice but to move against stoppages the union itself does not approve of. It has announced that workers involved in unofficial or supposedly "avoidable" strikes will be put on half pay.
The threat from Katowice is a prime economic case in point. Poland's one-time "black gold" industry, coal, is in bad shape, not so much from the slump resulting from the crisis, as from a decade of planning on gross output -- "rekordmania" (as a Politburo member recently called it) -- regardless of quality and the required calorie content of the coal.
Last year saw output drop 14 million tons below plan; exp orts fell 10 million tons.