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In Gdansk, Polish workers are cautious but defiant

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From the roof of the Lenin Shipyard's K2 assembly line, a big red banner proclaims, ``Work is the basis of socialism.'' Zygmunt, a welder, snaps, ``Work is the basis of capitalism, too.''

That quip hints at the unbreakable spirit of Poland's workers. In August 1980, workers at this shipyard launched the strike that gave birth to the Solidarity trade union. Almost five years later, despite the banning of the union and a period of martial law, the same workers remain defiant.

This does not mean they are going to strike. Caution tempers their defiance. Zygmunt ignored his foreman's warnings about ``behaving himself'' and stopped work briefly July 1 in response to the underground's call to protest the hike in meat prices.

But he remains wary of a longer protest. Like many other workers, he says he fears a repetition of either martial law or the events of 1970 and 1976, when police killed workers following work actions protesting price hikes.

``Our possibilities are limited,'' Solidarity leader Lech Walesa told the Monitor. Mr. Walesa, who is back at the shipyard working as an electrician, urges restraint.

Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski's government aims to rebuild the battered Communist Party, establish strong new party-dominated unions, and spur economic growth through market-oriented reforms. A visit to the Lenin Shipyard shows limited success on each count:

The economy. On the surface, the shipyard seems to be prospering. Since emerging from the ashes of the war, the Lenin yard has become the country's largest, exporting 620 boats and propelling Poland into the ranks of the world's top 10 shipbuilders. Orders are booked full through 1988.

By Western standards, though, the facility faces bankruptcy. During the 1970s, an ambitious investment program was launched, only to be called off when Poland's debt soared and labor unrest swelled in 1980. Since then, no new money has been found for modernization. Welders and other workers use ancient, rusty tools.

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