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For Poles, some crumbs of comfort

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The government is trying desperately to convince Poles that it is doing everything possible to ease the current food crisis -- and that it needs the cooperation of them all if it is to succeed.

At the same time, it is emphasizing that the agreements it made with the Solidarity union last summer -- and a torrent of demands the union has made since then -- must be renegotiated into a package the economy can bear.

These twin themes were at the center of the government-union talks that reopened here Thursday in the wake of this week's union-sponsored mass demonstrations.

The government sees the agreements themselves as having contributed to a dramatic slump in the economy. Big hikes in pay and social allowances put more money into Polish pockets and raised expectations that the government could not meet as industrial production fell and agriculture declined.

Even Solidarity now accepts government suggestions that some of the agreements will have to be rejigged to fit economic realities. But it contends that it was the failure to implement these agreements in their entirety that set the stage for this week's explosion of bitterness over the worst of all the periodic food crises the country has suffered since World War II.

Meanwhile, some crumbs of comfort have fallen the government's way:

Splendid harvesting weather is raising hopes that plentiful grain and root crops will ease the pressure on consumers.If the harvest is good, it may encourage private farmers to raise more livestock -- and sell produce to the state markets.

France's Aug. 5 decision to speed delivery of foodstuffs -- including 300,000 tons of rye and 7,000 of beef -- is seen here as a sign that the West is beginning to understand the urgency of Poland's food shortages. There is talk that some of these supplies may be flown in.

Just how near rock-bottom the supplies of various goods are was indicated earlier this week when several industrial regions added to the government's list of rationed items. They set quotas on more food items and even such things as diapers.

The first official reports of raids on black markets in the cities seem to justify complaints that more food than can be found in the shops is available "under the counter" or from speculators.


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