The outlook for renewed talks between Solidarity and the Polish government has brightened considerably. And the prime reason for this is Lech Walesa's reelection as the independent union's national chairman -- despite a sustained and frequently demagogic campaign against him by union militants and radicals.
Among the crowd outside the hall where the second half of solidarity's first national convention is drawing to a close here, everyone seemed to be jubilant at Mr. Walesa's Oct. 2 victory.
"Walesa has won. Everything will be all right," said one Pole exuberantly. Mr Walesa himself would make no such claim, but many Poles -- from the man in the street to intellectuals -- place a touching trust in this simple and uneducated, but remarkable man.
But the radicals in the union cannot be counted out. And Walesa's hold on the union as a whole is clearly not what it was six months ago. In addition, the tenous relations between union and government are liable to sudden stresses and strains -- such as those which boiled up Oct. 4 over tax hikes on tobacco and cigarettes.
The radicals won a vote giving only qualified acceptance to the workers' self-management law passed by the Sejm (parliament) on the eve of the convention. This was a setback to Mr. Walesa, a moderate who favors waiting to see how the law works in practice before seeking modifications. He has warned the union not to overestimate its strength because of its numbers nor underestimate the resources and options in the hands of the state authorities.
The militants also succeeded in laying on Lech Walesa's shoulders a lot of the rank and file disappointment over a series of compromises with the government -- starting with the incident of police brutality at Bydgoszcz in March. He and his advisers considered comrpomise the only way to avoid dangerous confrontations.
Nonetheless, the delegates gave him a clear majority over the combined vote for all three rival contenders. Many of those who voted against him know full well that he is the only leader who can hold Solidarity together considering its own manifest internal divisions.
The hard-liners in the Communist Party and government would have benefited from his defeat, but not the union -- nor the country itself.
Before the convention ends it is still possible that this effort to reopen the duel with the government over self-management will be modified. The essential thing, however, is that with Mr. Walesa remaining at the helm, the prospects are good for government and union sitting down at the negotiating table again sometimes soon.
Referring to the Walesa reelection, a well-known Roman Catholic editor beamed "a very good result." His assessment was not surprising. Throughout the crisis the Catholic Church has stood for compromise solutions and moderation.
The union militants have other ideas. In particular, they want more worker say on selecting factory managers than the government has been prepared to offer.
After a highly confused debate on this subject in the convention, the militants pushed through their own resolution. IT accepted the self-government law in principle but called for a referendum at factory level on proposed amendments. These would diminish the government's prerogatives and give the workers' councils virtually a free hand -- including appointment of directors -- in all enterprises except defense industries, banks, and various other state services and institutions.
But the results of any referendum -- if one is held -- may surprise its militant promoters. Some enterprises have already started to prepare for self-management more or less along the lines of the new law.
In other plants local cooperation between Solidarity and the party organizations in those enterprises is proceeding quite amicably; at grass roots, neither side seems overly concerned by the polemics being heard at the top.
Meanwhile, a few improvements are visible in the retail markets. Two ships, for instance, are unloading some 6,000 tons of coffee, cocoa, and lemons -- the latter not seen here for nearly a year -- at the port in Gdynia.
Although items ranging from meat to toothpaste remain in short supply, the sugar ration has been doubled, the cereal and flour problem eased, and vegetables are relatively plentiful, thanks to a generally good harvest.
But this is only a very, very modest start back to anything like a basically decent minimum, especially as winter approaches. The cruelest problem of all will be coal, for output is still stagnant and industrial and domestic needs are gravely threatened.