NOW comes the hard part. As Poland's leaders prepare to negotiate with Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, the legalization of the independent trade union appears possible for the first time in more than seven years. The authorities want the banned union to help stabilize the economy and head off a social explosion. Mr. Walesa also wants to avoid an explosion and to negotiate political reforms.
But sources in Warsaw say these converging interests do not ensure success. Solidarity is being asked to accept stringent restrictions, including a ban on strikes and acceptance of the Communist Party's ``leading role.'' The government must accept a check on its powers. And both sides must overcome hard-liners within their own ranks who oppose such compromises.
``There are so many open questions,'' says a Polish analyst contacted in Warsaw. ``The authorities agree to pluralism in principle, and then they keep saying there will be only one union per factory. I don't know how they are going to resolve the contradictions.''
These contradictions are already visible. Just as Solidarity announced its agreement to open talks, a pro-opposition priest, Stefan Niedzelak, was found murdered. Church spokesmen immediately recalled the 1984 murder of Rev. Jerzy Popieluszko by members of the secret police. ``In the present context,'' the Polish episcopate said, the murder could have ``unpredictable consequences'' unless ``its authors are found quickly.''
Alfred Miodowicz, the Politburo member who is the head of the official trade unions, warns against an agreement with Solidarity being made over the heads of ordinary workers suffering from 60 percent plus annual inflation and shortages in shops.
``Solidarity represents the qualified workers, the technicians, the intelligentsia, categories which can better than others survive hard times,'' says Aleksander Smolar, a professor at Paris's 'Ecole des Haute 'Etudes en Sciences Sociales. ``The poorer underdogs will search for a more radical language, a more radical leadership, and I wouldn't be surprised if even the official trade union played this populist role.''
Firebrand Solidarity supporters reject any compromises. Since last year's strike waves, street demonstrators have taken up the slogan ``Hang the Communists.'' If more moderate Solidarity leaders agree to work with the communists, they will be blamed for a deteriorating economic situation.
``How can we call ourselves a union if we give up the strike weapon?'' asks Andrzej Gwiazda, leader of a breakaway Solidarity faction in the port city of Gdansk.
In return for legalization, Walesa has already agreed to operate under a restrictive 1982 trade union law that puts tough controls on strikes. But it does not mean a full ban against strikes, Solidarity officials caution.
Solidarity is also wary of the government's offer to allot the union 25 percent of the seats in parliament, fearing this would formalize the party's dominant role.
``There is a certain logic driving us to negotiations,'' Walesa told the Monitor in a recent interview. ``But it's hard to break down the barricades.''