Polish regime opening debate on union's future?

Wojciech Gilewski had a letter published in a Polish newspaper April 19.

His letter was modest, but significant. The fact that the government allowed its publication in one of Warsaw's largest newspapers could signal a move to open debate about the future of the Solidarity trade union.

For Mr. Gilewski has been a Solidarity activist since the union's formation in August 1980. He has become the first Solidarity activist to be given a public hearing since martial law was imposed Dec. 13.

Some indication of what that means may emerge when the Communist Party Central Committee holds its next meeting, reportedly scheduled for April 22.

Since martial law was imposed, the military leadership has urged a ''national discussion'' on revival of the suspended trade union movement.

But the ''discussion'' has been one-sided. The public has heard only the government's view, because most Solidarity leaders are silenced by internment. Those at large have had no access to the official news media, the only ones publishing under martial law.

Early last month this writer asked a senior member of the government how it could be called discussion under such conditions.

The answer was that Solidarity had shown no readiness to reject former attitudes inimical to state interests; thus there was no basis on which open exchanges might begin.

In his letter Mr. Gilewski made no concessions to the government viewpoint. He rebuked the one-sided approach whereby the so-called branch unions--remnants of the pre-1980, government-controlled movement--were praised and Solidarity's ''entire activity besmirched.'' There could be no debate along those lines, he said.

He challenged specific points in the government's draft legislation on trade unions--such as the limits on foreign (i.e., Western) affiliations, and the prohibition of ''political strikes.''

''Who,'' his letter asked, ''is to decide what makes a political strike? The authorities who are a party to a given dispute?''

Recent talks with a cross-section of workers in the Gdansk shipyard confirmed to this writer that the bulk of Solidarity's members remain loyal to the union. They consider its restoration essential before they will rally to the Polish leaders' appeals for a nationwide effort to salvage the economy.

A hard-line faction in the party (with supporters in the military leadership) wants no new unions unless they conform to the rubber-stamp image of the pre- 1980 unions.

But the centrist and reform-minded group headed by Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski knows there can be no new union movement without Solidarity--however modified--and no discussion about a future movement without it.

Party and government moderates say debate could still proceed based on the draft bill that roused ''extreme'' Solidarity opposition in the weeks before martial law.

The government insists on ''absolute'' observance of Poland's communist Constitution by the unions and of the union's nonpolitical character. It will insist the ''right to strike'' remains the legal ''last resort.''

But the bill commits the regime to recognize ''independent, self-governed'' unions free of ''supervision or control'' by employer, government, or ministerial bodies, with guarantees of extensive union rights in all socioeconomic decisionmaking.

(Reuters reports from Warsaw that an underground leaflet claims there were strikes or demonstrations ''all over the country'' on the four-month anniversary of martial law and that dissenters plan to expand a clandestine ''Radio Solidarity'' network.)

It will take hard work to allay suspicions, within Solidarity per se and among the workers at large. But--given a free and full debate--moderates on both sides might still come up with an agreement, short of 1980's dream but better by far than if the field is left to the hard-liners.

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