Poles sidetrack one dispute -- but others still lie ahead

The Polish government and Solidarity have defused their row over coverage by the state-controlled television and radio of the independent union's first-ever national convention.

And none too soon. The much-heralded convention opens on Saturday.

The union had threatened a technical blackout of coverage if it were not assured a "fair" showing.

The government had responded with a warning that it would use security forces to prevent any disruption of the news media. It emphasised that the media are an integral part of the Warsaw Pact's communications system.

In weekend talks, however, the union accepted an offer of two 30-minute television programs this week before the convention gets under way. And conditions of broadcast coverage during the convention were scheduled to be discussed Aug. 31.

It has been just a year since the strikes at the Baltic ports were settled by agreements between the government and the embryo union. They averted a dangerous confrontation between the workers and the so-called workers' state, but only for the time being.

Today the conflict is just as bitter and its outcome just as incalculable. The euphoria of relief that swept the country when the initial strikes ended was not to last long.

The face of Poland might seem to be changing: The workers won an independent union, long-taboo opinions could be aired in relatively free debate, and the papers told the nation the truth behind 10 years of misrule and drift to economic disaster.

But behind the hopeful facade, the country was politically, as well as financially, near bankruptcy. By Christmas, it was a deep crisis again, and the crisis has persisted and deepened.

Solution of Poland's economic woes is no nearer. Ordinary Poles face greater hardships, including longer hours spent in queues. Now there are lines for food -- and for every other consumer item.

In mid-August 1980, the dismissal of a female crane operator because of "free" union activity provided the spark for the strikes. It quickly became apparent that unrest in the shipyards ws just the tip of an iceberg of political discontent rooted deep in the system.

The strikes revealed the same "loss of faith in the leadership of the [ Communist] party and state" admitted after the December 1970 riots.

Today, despite its considerable effort and a measure of liberalization in various fields, the year-old leadership under Stanislaw Kania has yet to win any really meaningful credibility with Poles at large or with millions of rank-and-file members of the new unions (including Communist Party members).

If anything, the future of the nation is even more precarious. All sides appear to be aware of this, yet, they are doingm little about it except quarrel and debate.

For the last six months, the party and Solidarity have been locked in acrimonious dispute, each from an intransigent position, and the nation has lurched from the brink of one potential flashpoint to another.

Ordinary Poles look on with bemused cynicism and dismay. They seem to feel neither a need nor an inclination to work harder, even though such effort is essential if the country is to remain as independent as it is, let alone regain some economic stability.

The party appeared to feel a measure of renewed confidence in itself after its July congress, but it has not translated it into concrete results. It did lay out the draft program for economic reform, but the timetable for implementation remains wide open.

This is, in part, because energies have been diverted by the wrangling in the overall power play between the government and Solidarity in the process of "odnowa" -- renewal.

The union has its own quandaries. The financial gains and shorter workweek won last August run quite contrary to the demands of economic revival. But which are to come first -- the workers' immediate interests or the needs of the national economy?

It is not easy for moderates, even union leader Lech Walesa, to tell the workers forthrightly that rejigging a crazy price structure must come first. (This would raise consumer prices in line with production costs.)

Yet, the regime knows it cannot push this through unless is has the union's backing on this issue. Most Poles have enough cash in their pockets to afford, for example, the new quadrupled (but still relatively cheap) market price of bread; and pay rises will offset the price hikes. But the regime remembers the price riots that erupted on three other occasions in the past decade.

The union itself is divided between moderates and radicals. But its general view of renewal goes well beyond the regime's, especially in some ideologically sensitive areas where the government has to keep reform within bounds accpetable to the Russians.

The regime may not be too concerned about even radical self-management in the factories, any more than it worries about the existence of Solidarity or the farmers' union.

But twice this past week Mr. Kania deemed it necessary to warn that there can be no compromise over the Communist Party's basic control of the media, either from the internal or the external point of view.

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