Moscow growls as Polish unions flex strike muscles
The unrest in poland has taken a turn for the worse, once again pitting angry workers against their hard-pressed Communist government. At the same time, Moscow has just delivered its most pointed comment on Polish affairs for some weeks. And it has repeated its earlier barbed reminder that labor disturbances in Poland can spell danger to Soviet and Soviet-bloc interests as a whole.
The previous worker-regime confrontation in Poland was relieved only by the Supreme Court's Nov. 10 ruling in favor of the Solidarity union's appeal against the politicizing of its charter. Thereafter the Polish government began to push slowly ahead with promised reforms. And union leaders responded with calls for moderation and an end to precipitous recourse to strike action.
Now, a rail strike, a coal miners' strike, and an out-of-the-blue incident Nov. 19 involving the arrest of one Solidarity's volunteer helpers has reversed this more hopeful situation. Once again the government and unions are on, or perilously close to, a collision course.
It is the new railroad strike, sparked by a dispute over a government wage offer, which seems to have prompted the latest Soviet comment -- issued by the Tass news agency and broadcast by Moscow radio Nov. 24.
It was an earlier railroad strike, back in July, by workers at the Lublin junction in eastern Poland -- whose stoppage temporarily halted the main rail link between Moscow and Western Europe -- that drew the Russians' first harsh warning. They are extremely sensitive to any threat to communications through Poland to East Germany.
The latest strike action by railwaymen brought commuter train services in the Warsaw region and in the Gdansk-Baltic area to a standstill for two hours Monday. A further four-hour stoppage occurred Nov. 25.
Meanwhile, coal miners in the Katowice region in the south also stopped work Nov. 25 in this case for a couple of hours. And the dispute over Solidarity's imprisoned volunteer worker, a printer named Jan Narozniak, worsened sharply.
For two days, workers at Warsaw's huge Ursus tractor factory have been on strike as part of a campaign to free Mr. Narozniak, whom the government accuses of betraying state secrets by copying a document which discusses policy toward dissidents.
Now Solidarity has issued in ultimatum to the government to turn up at the Ursus factory for talks by noon this Thursday. The Solidarity leaders Nov. 25 laid out a set of six demands related to the freeing of the printer and the investigation of police and other officials. They also announced plans for fresh strikes at factories in the Warsaw area.
Until now, the Russians have been content to leave it to the hard-line Czechoslovak and East German regimes to sound the alarm agains the rise of Poland's new unions. Except for a recent charge of WEstern financial support for the Polish "opposition," the Soviets themselves have been unusually, tass got back into the fray with an acerbic comment alleging that the latest rail stoppages were engineered by those interested in maintaining tension. The statement referred to the threat of a general rail strike.
The warning that such action could affect Poland's national and defense interests and disrupt transit links "across" Poland remains just as significant, especially if present limited stoppages should escalate across the country. This clearly menat defense as it relates to the whole Warsaw Pact -- in which Poland is in very many ways te geopolitical linchpin.
But it also conveys a calculated reminder of the possible effects on Comecon, the economic side of the alliance, especially for East European states that, for example, might be anxiously awaiting deliveries of Polish coal.
This newly erupted, sensitive domestic situation is an ironic deal for the Polish authorities.
The rail stoppages -- over the way a pay settlement is, in fact, to be apportioned -- result to a large extent from rivalries between the new unions and the old.
There still are no established figures, but Solidarity has captured at least half, perhaps two-thirds, of the country's labor force.
Leaders of the old union spledged themselves to "renewal." Now their members -- though motivated in part by concern over benefit funds in which they have invested for years -- are pressing them to get on with it and secure the same status as the newcomers.
To this highly fraught situation, the arrest of Solidarity's printer, Mr. Narozniak, added a new kind of challenge. The action may have been the work of some overzealous or hardline police official. The damage nonetheless was done.
Mr. Narozniak is charged wth making copies of a classified police document on "anti-socialist elements" that disappeared from the public prosecutor's office.
The union invoked the "freedom of expression" written into Solidarity's Gdansk agreement and insisted he be released. They backed the demand with a strike protest by 600 workers at the Warsaw tractor plant Ursus Nov. 24 and the threat of more strikes until he is.
The government is still on the defensive and was probably taken aback by these latest turns in events. But it betrays no sign of alarm, nor of being diverted from its program of reform.
Four more provincial leaders of the pre-August regime were removed Nov. 24. That brings to 20 the number of new regional government and party chiefs brought in to buttress the "renewal" process.
Perhaps the most confident move of all is the renewal by Communist Party first secretary Stanislaw Kania of the invitation to President Giscard d'Estaing to visit Poland -- and thus maintain the established "special" connection with France -- and apparently at a realtively early date.
The French leader was originally to have gone last summer, but his trip was put off by the August strikes.