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Polish tug of war suggests state will have to yield ground

The hard-pressed Polish government faces a serious dilemma: make major concessions that undermine the communist system or face a national disaster of political and economic significance.

Despite a more flexible official attitude, the recent desperate reshuffle of state and Communist Party leadership has not weakened the workers' solidarity and determination.

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Some 500 plants, including the great shipyards at Gdansk, Gdynia, and Szczecin, remain idled. And there have been no defections.

With the workers standing firm and the economic toll mounting daily, the government now has no option but to compromise if it is to reach a peaceful solution.

How far it will go remains to be seen. But the situation holds little comfort for Edward Gierek's regime without substantive concessions.

Already the government had to yield ground to get the talks started again. The strike committee at Gdansk said it would not resume negotiations until the region's telecommunication links to the rest of Poland and the outside world were restored.

The government had cut them as part of an effort to isolate the strikers. They were working again Monday night. Communication between here and the coast cities now appears to be normal.

As negotiations were resuming in the Gdansk Lenin shipyard and the Warski yard at Szczecin, the Central Council of the official trade union organization was already in session. It was under orders from the "rejuvenated" leadership to prepare for new union elections and for the council's conference due in November. As promised by Mr. Gierek, the workers will be allowed as many of their own independent candidates as they wish.

In all likelihood the conference will be brought forward. When its chairman, Jan Szydlak, was dismissed from the party Politburo in Sunday's purge, nothing was said of his union post. It is, however, standing Communist Party practice that a Politburo member must be at the head of the union.

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So either the present council session of its conference proper can be expected to elect a new one. The choice will obviously have a profound effect on the workers' future attitudes.

Another gain for the strikers is the government's acquiescence in the issue of joint communiques on the negotiations and their publication in the national press.

For some unknown reason, the Szczecin and Gdansk committees are negotiating separately with the government. Also, where the Gdansk committee has welcomed Western reporters to the Lenin shipyards, the Szczecin committee has firmly declined to meet them.

The two groups' demands, however, run on similar lines. Gdansk has 23, some of which are privately conceded to be unrealistic and which the government will certainly be unwilling to discuss.

The others, on which the strikers are adamant, could be the easiest for it to meet. They concern union structures, public policy on information, prices, and the food situation.

High on the agenda:

* The workers' right to free, independent unions. Strike committees have talked even of the workers "own" union organizations.

The party certainly will resist any rival organization to its own. But circumstances could force it to put more teeth into Mr. Gierek's initial proposals if they are to convince the skeptical strikers that he means what he says.

A leading party member told me: "A feasible and acceptable formula could be found. We must convince the workers that the 'control' will be in their hands, that the unions will become what Mr. Gierek called the 'authentic defense' of their interests."

* Freedom of speech and press, and abolition of censorship. The latter, in fact, has already been lifted enough to allow the party-controlled news media to carry long accounts of the strikes and related events.

Again, the regime could do nothing else. But it makes a welcome contrast to past information policy. Even the leadership now admits that for a long time the nation was not "told the truth" about the rapidly worsening economic situation. This practice proved a major factor in the government's present quagmire.

* Wages adequate to cope with fast-rising prises, and the removal of anomalies in family allowances. "Why," a striker asked, "are those for police and troops four and five times those for workers' families?"

The fear of social pressures may persuade the government to give more than an already gravely overstrained economy can bear. But it cannot avoid it if Poland's general crisis is to be halted, let alone reversed. Meanwhile, in Gdansk the provincial party secretary, Tadeusz Fiszbach, has directly entered the fray -- in effect, on the strikers' side.He did so by publishing in the city's newspaper the text of his speech at Sunday's stormy Central Committee meeting.

Thus far only Mr. Gierek's speech had appeared, and then not in full. Mr. Fiszbach decided not to wait.

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