Shipyard Strikers Continue Holdout : But 800 Polish Workers See Chance of Ejection by Force

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Times Staff Writer

About 800 striking shipyard workers, locked in the Lenin Shipyard with Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, continued their holdout Friday in what Walesa described as a “psychological war” with the authorities.

Hundreds of riot police kept the sprawling shipyard sealed off for a second day and managed to close at least one secret route used by couriers. Solidarity activists said the police had intercepted emergency food supplies being smuggled to the strikers.

After a tension-filled night during which riot police made two feinting approaches to the shipyard gates, the dispirited mood of the mostly youthful strikers prompted Walesa to make an inspirational speech. He told the workers that “solidarity means taking care of the person standing next to you.”


Force Expected

Although the authorities chose not to assault the shipyard gates Friday morning, as most of the strikers had expected, speculation remained high that sooner or later the strikers will be ejected by force, a method the government used Thursday to end a strike at the nation’s largest steel mill in Nowa Huta.

Expressions of protest against the pre-dawn raid at the Lenin Steel Works continued as students at the ancient Jagiellonian University in nearby Krakow rallied and read a statement decrying the raid. It was signed by many faculty members.

Poland’s Roman Catholic Church, in a statement issued by the church secretariat in Warsaw, expressed “deep sorrow” at the government’s forceful intervention in the Nowa Huta strike.

As these protests were being registered, however, the government of Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski was reported to be preparing a further crackdown on civil and labor unrest with a law that would give the government sweeping powers to prohibit all strikes and other protests for the rest of the year.

According to a draft of the legislation, anyone organizing a strike or protest could be sent to prison for a year.

The proposed legislation, which was being debated by the government’s Social and Economic Council and is scheduled to be introduced in Parliament on May 11, would empower the government to override its massive bureaucracy in order to push forward an economic reform plan that until now has made only sluggish progress.


The proposed measure would empower the government’s Council of Ministers to freeze wages and prices, impose new taxes on individuals and enterprises, order layoffs of workers, fire and hire managers, liquidate, break up or merge enterprises, hasten bankruptcy action against unprofitable enterprises and veto enterprise investment plans.

It would also suspend legal procedures for resolving labor disputes that were formulated by the government in 1982, when it established the Communist-led OPZZ trade union federation.

The executive power to enforce the new law’s provisions would reside with Deputy Premier Zdzislaw Sadowski, the government’s chief economic architect. Sadowski has said in recent weeks that he opposes such sweeping powers because they are not necessary to get the reform plan moving.

However, the current wave of labor unrest, in which worker protests for higher wages gradually escalated to political demands--and the dramatic standoff at the Lenin shipyards--may have prompted the government to go ahead with the legislation.

The law is clearly aimed at enforcing labor peace while putting more teeth in the government effort to revive the moribund Polish economy.

The shipyard workers went on strike Monday, putting the legalization of the outlawed trade union at the top of their demands. And there was evident disappointment that the spectacle of the shipyard’s flag-bedecked gates--the scene of much tragedy, exultation and drama in the history of Polish anti-government protests--had not ignited widespread support nationwide.


More Support Urged

“We still don’t have the support we expected,” said Wojciech Kreft, a 25-year-old law student who joined the workers and had become a spokesman for the shipyard strike committee. “After five days, we still don’t have the support of the country, although some factories made attempts.”

Walesa, who led the Solidarity shutdown of the shipyard in 1980, repeatedly has spoken of the youthfulness of the leadership of the current strike. He said the Solidarity leadership did not want the strike but that, as it unfolded, “we can only support it.”

“Young people think we are too slow,” Walesa told the strikers at a rally Wednesday, “but that’s not true. We are just different.” As the strike seemed to move toward its conclusion, Walesa made good his pledge to remain with the shipyard strikers.

At mid-morning, with youthful spirits at a low ebb and the outlook for the coming day uncertain at best, one striker seemed to lose control, hurling himself against a window in the second-floor cafeteria where most of the workers spent the night.

As the glass shattered, his fellow workers subdued and comforted him, while he talked of wanting to go home to his wife.

In response, Walesa hurried to the cafeteria and immediately called the workers together, trying to calm them and raise their spirits.


1,000 Problems

“You know, solidarity means taking care of the person next to you,” Walesa said. “Every one of us has 1,000 problems, each different. One has a problem because he loves his wife and must stay here. . . . Another guy left 500 zlotys for his wife, and suddenly he realizes she has nothing to live on.

“Therefore I ask you, our solidarity here must be so big, and everyone must recognize the other. You have to look into (your neighbor’s) eyes, and if there is a strange look, you have to ask, ‘What is your problem? Can I help?’ And you can come to Walesa and pull on his sleeve and say, ‘Walesa, I have a problem.’ ”

As the workers stood silent, Walesa moved on to his conclusion, saying he understood the need some of them felt for their families, and suggested that Solidarity is a family as well.

“We have to share what we have. We have to resolve all our problems together. We have no choice. But you can do it; otherwise, we will all suffer a lot. I don’t want anyone putting on a sad face around here.

“And if you have to go to your wife--if you love her, if your heart is so troubled--you can go,” he said. “And if you have the strength, you can return.”

Within five minutes, the atmosphere of the strikers seemed to change. Brooms were brought out and the driveway outside was swept clean. An impromptu cabaret was started, with workers taking turns telling jokes. There were anti-Soviet jokes and Communist jokes, and a sense of spirit--at least momentarily heartening--returned.


By early evening, the trucks and vans of the riot police, in far greater numbers than the night before, began to move into place.