A Politburo member appeared today at the huge Lenin steel mills, where management declared a strike by thousands of workers illegal and reportedly threatened to call in riot police to end the three-day walkout.
Organizers said 16,000 workers, or half the work force, are on strike at the mills outside the southern city of Krakow to demand higher pay. It is Poland's largest work stoppage since martial law stifled the independent Solidarity labor union 6 1/2 years ago.
Negotiations at the Lenin works broke off early today.
Alfred Miodowicz, a member of Poland's Communist Party Politburo and the head of the All-Poland Trade Union Alliance, was at the mill and said another government official, Deputy Prime Minister Zbigniew Szalajda, also was expected. Szalajda is the government's industrial policy chief.
The personal involvement of two senior officials indicated a high level of official concern about the strike, which comes only a few days before official May Day celebrations, an annual time of protest for government opponents.
Head of Substitute Union
Miodowicz, who began his career as a steel worker at the Lenin plant in Nowa Huta outside Krakow, is the head of the union alliance created in 1982 to take Solidarity's place.
Asked by a Western reporter about the possibility of using force to break the strike, Miodowicz said, "I don't think that will be necessary."
In other developments, about 100 people staged a brief rally in Krakow in support of the strike. Solidarity activists in the southeastern Polish city of Stalowa Wola reaffirmed their call for a strike Friday at an 18,000-worker heavy machinery plant there.
The government has raised prices 42% so far this year as part of a program to make the economy more market-oriented, and there is widespread discontent that wages are lagging behind inflation.
The 16-member strike committee was formally notified by a prosecutor today that their strike is illegal, and company foremen were distributing forms in which each worker was asked to declare in writing whether or not he was on strike.
But the committee said it would ignore the prosecutor's letter and told workers not to sign the forms, said Zygmunt Lenyk, an opposition activist in Krakow.
On Wednesday, the strikers rejected a government offer that nearly met their demand for a 50% pay increase.