Polish Strikes Spread to Home of Solidarity
The wave of labor unrest in Poland spread Monday to the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk, the birthplace of the Solidarity independent trade union, as workers went on strike and closed the shipyard gates behind them.
The exact number of striking workers could not be determined immediately. But Solidarity leaders in Gdansk said workers on the shipyard’s morning shift began the action and appealed to employees reporting for work in the afternoon to join them. They said about 3,000 out of 12,000 workers were participating.
Spokesmen for the Polish government, already faced with a strike affecting 32,000 workers at the country’s largest steel mill at Nowa Huta in southern Poland, confirmed that a strike is in progress in Gdansk.
The Lenin Shipyard workers apparently responded to a plea issued Sunday by Solidarity leader Lech Walesa for workers to show “solidarity with Nowa Huta . . . in your shipyards, in your ports and in your factories.”
Walesa, in a telephone interview, said he made two trips to the shipyard, where he still works as an electrician, to talk with the workers. He said he told them his national responsibilities in Solidarity, which is outlawed but still active, prevent him from leading the strike, but he declared his support for their action.
The strike began after several dozen Solidarity activists in the shipyard marched around the yard and ended at the main gate, where workers were urged to stay off the job.
According to Adam Michnik, a leading Solidarity activist, the strikers drew up a list of five demands: a pay increase of up to $50 a month, legal status for Solidarity, reinstatement of all workers fired for union activity since 1982, when the trade union movement was outlawed, release of political prisoners and guarantees of amnesty for strikers.
Solidarity activists acknowledged that it could take a day or more to determine the extent of support for the strike among the shipyard workers. But they clearly have been buoyed--and in some cases surprised--by the weeklong round of strikes that began with wage demands for bus and tram drivers in the western city of Bydgoszcz.
Involvement of the militant workers at the Lenin Shipyard added to the mounting pressures on the government of Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, which came to power at the climax of a period of labor turmoil that began with a similar wave of strikes. The present round of strikes is the most serious in Poland since martial law was declared by the Jaruzelski government in 1981.
The government did not announce any immediate response to the strike in Gdansk, although police were reported to have cordoned off the shipyard gates.
Jacek Kuron, an adviser to Solidarity, was quoted by news agencies as saying that police have arrested at least nine regional representatives who serve on the 13-member Solidarity executive commission. Kuron said that two commission members, including Walesa, were free and that the whereabouts of two others was not known, the news agencies reported.
Witnesses said workers draped the main shipyard gates with banners lettered “Sit-In Strike” and “Gdansk Shipyard on Strike.” Solidarity banners were hung on other factory gates, and strike supporters decorated the fence surrounding the shipyard with flowers and Polish flags.
With the potentially explosive situation at Gdansk just beginning, negotiations with steelworkers at Nowa Huta, south of the southern city of Krakow, remained at a standstill, with the strike there continuing for a seventh day.
2 Strike Committees
A spokesman for the Nowa Huta strike committee said a letter had been sent to Deputy Prime Minister Zdzislaw Sadowski urging him to join the stalemated talks with management representatives. There was no response from Sadowski’s office.
There are two strike committees at Nowa Huta, one representing the government-sanctioned union and another with close connections to Solidarity that claims to represent 16,000 of the mill’s employees.
Management has taken the position that the unofficial strike committee is illegal. Negotiations with the official union’s representatives were broken off Friday. In accordance with Polish law, management and the official union are to submit the dispute to arbitration.
Throughout the building crisis, the government has tried to maintain a tone of firmness and practicality in its public statements while signaling flexibility in its dealings with workers complaining of steadily rising prices. Jaruzelski, speaking Sunday at May Day ceremonies in Warsaw, said that “to give more (in wages), one has to take away from somebody else, or produce more.”
Money Reported Lacking
That view was echoed Monday by an official of the Ministry of Industry, who said in a television interview that there is no money available to give the Nowa Huta workers the 50% pay increase they are demanding.
Over the last week, however, striking workers have repeatedly won quick wage concessions from state-run enterprises. The strike by bus drivers in Bydgoscsz and Inowroclaw lasted only a few hours before their demand for a 60% wage increase was granted.
Another strike, which started Friday at a defense plant at Stalowa Wola, 200 miles east of Krakow, ended Saturday with similar increases for 18,000 workers, even though the government had declared the strike illegal on grounds that workers at defense plants are prohibited by law from striking.
The pattern continued Monday in yet another brief work stoppage at the Dolmel electronics plant in Wroclaw, where about half the factory’s 3,500 employees stopped work until plant managers promised a wage increase of $15 a month. Factory spokesmen said work resumed after the increase was announced.
Some observers here suggest that the government’s swift capitulation in these disputes has led many workers, struggling to keep up with price increases imposed in February and March, to assume that the government will continue to give in to similar wage demands.
Money has been the primary issue in all the strikes so far, but the Lenin Shipyard strike could alter the trend.
The wage demands put forward by the strikers in Gdansk are in line with those received by other striking workers over the last week. But the call for the reinstatement of Solidarity is one demand that clearly will be unacceptable to the government.
The strike, if it takes hold, could turn out to be a major boost for Solidarity, which in recent months has shown signs of disarray, reflecting the gloom that seems to hang over much of the country.
Despite the government’s reform efforts, the country has showed no sign of emerging from its long economic and political malaise. A government-sponsored referendum in November, designed to gain public backing for stringent economic reform measures, failed to accomplish its goal.
Since then, the government’s restructuring plan has ground down slowly, opposed on one hand by conservative bureaucrats and on the other by a populace that views price increases as a device to perpetuate a government it does not trust or support.