Plan to shut shipyard leaves workers in limbo. Polish workers find it hard to believe that Lenin Shipyard - Solidarity's birthplace - could be closed down. But the government says operations will cease in about two years. Union leader Lech Walesa still hopes to reach a deal to avoid strikes and violence (Story, Page 10).
When the news broke that the Lenin Shipyard would close on Dec. 1, Brunon Baranowscy didn't believe it. Mr. Baranowscy has worked as a welder in the Shipyard since 1974. He lives with his wife, Jolanta, and his three children in a two-room shipyard workers' hostel.
``I need my job and this flat,'' he says. ``They can't close the shipyard and kick me out on the streets.''
One word sums up the atmosphere in Gdansk: disbelief. Disbelief, first, that the communist regime dared break with its faith in inefficient heavy industry. And disbelief, second, that the government dared take on the banned independent trade union Solidarity in its stronghold, the place where workers revolted in 1970, 1976, 1980, and twice again this year.
Such disbelief accounts for a strange absence of emotion in Gdansk over the shipyard closure.
There have been only a few wildcat strikes. Winter is closing in, and it is difficult to occupy freezing buildings. Just as important, no one strikes when he does not believe he will lose his job. And Baranowscy and his fellow workers say they have received no layoff slips.
Although government spokesman Jerzy Urban says the decision to shut down the shipyard is ``final,'' he adds that it will stay open two more years to finish its contracts. Efficient portions will be sold to other Polish shipyards - or to a foreign owner. The delay has given Solidarity leader Lech Walesa time to defuse a potential crisis.
Walesa and his advisers admit in private that the breathing space is narrow. They say the shipyard decision, even if it does not result in an imminent shutdown, has torpedoed hopes for round-table negotiations between the banned union and the government.
``Before we sit down with the authorities, they have to stop closing down the shipyard,'' says Tadeusz Mazowiecki. ``That's a precondition.''
The government maintains the shipyard decision was made for purely economic reasons. To Solidarity, the shipyard decision is purely political.
``There are many more economic absurdities in Poland than this shipyard,'' says Maciej Plazynski, a union activist in Gdansk. ``Why would they start a reform by liquidating this particular shipyard if the real goal wasn't to liquidate Solidarity?''
In the past, Solidarity leaders supported market-oriented economic reform plans, even though this meant closing down large, pro-union, money-losing firms. Now they are concerned they no longer will be able to persuade workers of the need for such reform.
``We were not your typical union; we wanted the closure of inefficient enterprises,'' says Bronislaw Geremek, a key Walesa adviser. ``What really upsets and frightens me is that by closing the shipyard, the authorities have destroyed this reasonable reflex and pushed us against economic reform.''
The other great danger is to aggravate destructive splits within the union, Mr. Geremek and other Solidarity leaders say. So far, Walesa has been able to paper over differences of opinion and force the acceptance of a moderate line. He stopped the strikes this August against the wishes of the young strikers. He pulled back from a strike against the shipyard closure.
``If there is no dialogue, no hope of compromise, the bickering will start,'' Geremek worries. ``Radicals might gain the upper hand.''
By radicals, he means men like Andrzej Gwadjza, an opposition activist in Gdansk who has fought a running battle for years with Walesa. In 1981, just before the declaration of martial law, Mr. Gwadjza split with the union leadership.
``We gave up our strike weapon much too soon,'' he now says. ``We shouldn't go for a round-table, we should go for a `square-table' - us against them. We must show that we defend the interests of the workers here at the shipyard.''
Amid uncertainty whether the shipyard will close, no clear winner has emerged yet in this contest for the hearts and minds of the workers. Welder Baranowscy is waiting to see what happens with his job.
``I don't know anything,'' he says. ``We have just received a new order for a ship, so I believe I'll still be working on Dec. 1.''
Workers who have begun looking for new jobs are disappointed. The only offers they have received are as garbagemen at much lower salaries than their shipyard pay. Henryk Drazkowski says he now makes 60,000 zlotys. As a garbagemen, he would make only 10,000 zlotys.
``Nobody could take such an offer,'' he says. ``We're skilled workers. We should not be treated this way.''
If forced to leave their jobs, Baranowscy and Mr. Drazkowski agree that Solidarity should respond with protests. For now, however, they plan to concentrate on their work.
``The authorities are trying to provoke us by announcing the shipyard closure,'' Baranowscy says. ``Now there is a chance the shipyard will stay, we will not be provoked.''