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Poland tries way to have its meat and eat it, too

Poland, a country with a troubled record of recent labor unrest, may have found a formula for fostering worker harmony. And it is doing so using a peculiarly Western tactic: allowing direct labor-management negotiations.

The government is trying out the new approach in handling labor unrest over its new economic pricing policy, particularly over the higher price of meat, an ever "explosive" consumer issue.

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When the new distribution and price system was introduced July 1, a wave of work stoppages panicked authorities into hurried wage concessions.

It was not forgotten that in 1970 the same issue led to bloody riots that toppled the leadership from power. Or that there was almost a repeat performance in 1976.

With immediate pay hikes this time, the troubles died down.

But when party leader Edward Gierek went on television July 10 to tell the nation the country's economic crisis simply would not allow a reversal of the new prices and warned that unauthorized wage increases would not be tolerated, a fresh wave of stoppages erupted.

By the weekend, no fewer than 23 large plants were reportedly affected.

So far there has been no violence, however. The regime seems to be containing the situation by allowing management to negotiate wage increases directly with the workers, provided they are strictly tied to better work performance.

Poland is thus the first communist bloc country to try the kind of productivity-based collective bargaining between management and labor that is common in the West.

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Some observers see it as possibly a first step toward the better labor relations "reformers" in the Polish party have been urging for years.

They acknowledge that the government has no alternative to the tighter economic policies it is now introducing. But they insist that it do more to explain the necessity and objectives, and show more understanding of what price hikes mean to ordinary consumers.

The influential weekly Polityka rejected allegations of a general "consumer mentality."

"There are those," it said, "who are out to get rich at any price.But you cannot say that of people who simply desire an apartment of their own or a small car."

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