Church Enters Poland’s Labor Disputes : Catholic Emissaries Visit Striking Workers in Mediation Effort
The Roman Catholic Church entered Poland’s labor conflict Wednesday, dispatching teams of church intellectuals to speak with striking steelworkers and shipyard employees in an effort to mediate between the workers and the Communist government.
There was no clear indication that the government would accept the church’s mediation role or abide by any of its recommendations. Also, the government’s chief spokesman accused the strikers of “terrorist actions,” suggesting that the authorities may be preparing to adopt a tougher approach to a wave of increasingly political labor unrest.
“We shall prevent anarchy,” spokesman Jerzy Urban vowed.
Police Used Sparingly
So far, Polish authorities have used the police only to prevent massive marches in support of the strikers. They have made no move to use force to end the strikes at two of the nation’s largest industrial enterprises, a steel mill at Nowa Huta and the shipyard in the Baltic port of Gdansk.
The emissaries from the Roman Catholic Episcopate in Warsaw arrived at midday at the shipyard, which has been shut by strikers since Monday. They met with Solidarity leader Lech Walesa and the strike committee of the banned independent trade union.
“We are here to invent a solution and to push it forward,” said Tadeusz Mazowiecki, the editor of a leading Catholic publication and a longtime adviser to Solidarity, whose members are demanding official reinstatement of the union in the shipyard. Accompanying Mazowiecki was Andrzej Wielowieski, an economist.
Officials in the government press office in Warsaw declined to confirm or deny that the church effort was undertaken at the government’s suggestion or had its backing. The members of the mediation teams are all well known for their close association with Solidarity.
Another team appointed by the church met with striking steelworkers at the Lenin Steelworks in Nowa Huta near Krakow, where a Solidarity-backed work stoppage has gone on for nine days.
Negotiations between the striking workers at Nowa Huta, where there are 32,000 employees, and representatives of management have been at a standstill for nearly a week.
At the Gdansk shipyard, with 11,000 employees, a similar deadlock held for a second day, with spokesmen for management and the official, government-sanctioned union reporting that wage issues had been settled. Remaining issues, principally the recognition of Solidarity as a union in the shipyard, are in the hands of the government, they added.
‘A Political Decision’
“This is a political decision and must be made in Warsaw,” said Wlodzimierz Ziolkowski, the management spokesman.
But the government offered no indication that it was anywhere near ready to recognize Solidarity.
However, Deputy Premier Zdzislaw Sadowski was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying he would be willing to discuss the nation’s problems with Walesa if the strike were to end, but only in an unofficial capacity. The government previously repeatedly rejected Walesa’s calls for a dialogue.
“We are fully prepared to talk with him in an informal way and see how the conditions of . . . dialogue can be created,” Sadowski said on British radio during a visit to London, according to Reuters. Also, a statement by the Communist Party Politburo, published Wednesday, contained language that could be read as conciliatory, stressing the need for “further reform-like steps” such as “socialist pluralism” and “development of democracy.” But it also stressed the need for order, the principal message in Urban’s comments, which were made later.
Any solution to the “current conflicts and problems” in Poland, the Politburo said, “must be accompanied by realism and feelings of responsibility for Poland’s future.”
Meanwhile, Catholic bishops, after a two-day meeting, issued a statement saying that “citizens who share a responsibility for the fate of the country must view with concern the disturbances and strikes.” The bishops, the statement said, “understand the motives and aspirations” of the workers.
The statement also called for “a dialogue between state authorities and representative social groups” as “the only way to overcome the crisis.”
The bishops called on the Polish people to unite in order “to achieve social agreement, restore conditions for healthy development (and) rebuild a healthy economy and a law-abiding state that enjoys the trust of its citizens.” The people, they concluded, “must not lack the courage for effective and productive work” and must make “the necessary sacrifices for the good of the whole nation.”
The delicate wording of the official pronouncements from the country’s two leading forces--the government and the church--reflected the air of caution that had characterized the response to the 10-day-old crisis until Urban’s comments Wednesday.
Many Poles, remembering the declaration of martial law that ended Poland’s last period of labor unrest in 1981, see no likelihood that a similar round of protests will improve a dispirited political climate and an economy that seems locked in perpetual crisis.
Even opposition figures frequently point out that Poles are weary. According to a public opinion survey, conducted by the generally respected state polling agency and made public Wednesday, 61% of those questioned in Warsaw said they believe that strikes would lead to a lower standard of living. Only 15% said they believe they would lead to improvement.
The strikes are a setback for Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski’s government, which came to power after Solidarity burst on the scene in one of the most dramatic developments in postwar Eastern Europe.
Jaruzelski has been struggling to enact an economic reform plan, which if carried through would be one of the most far-reaching in the Soviet Bloc.
While the two major strikes, at Nowa Huta and Gdansk, occupied the most attention, at least one other strike was reported, at the Rudna copper mine near Wroclaw in southwestern Poland. Opposition sources said 1,000 workers are on strike, but a plant spokesman put the number at 150.
At Warsaw University, about 2,000 students rallied in support of the strikers and declared that a strike was planned for today. Sit-in strikes were also reported among students in Poznan and Gdansk, where students were demanding the right to elect school officials.