5,000 Poles Heed Walesa, End Strike
Greeted like heroes, about 5,000 strikers carrying Solidarity banners and marching behind a cross ended their strike at the huge Lenin shipyard today after Solidarity leader Lech Walesa called on them to return to work
Hours later, thousands of workers at the Stalowa Wola steel mill in southern Poland began leaving the plant after receiving a telephone appeal from Walesa and a message from the Roman Catholic episcopate, a strike committee spokeswoman said.
However, striking coal miners who began the current labor unrest in Poland demanded to meet with Walesa before ending their strikes. The workers were demanding higher wages and legalization of Solidarity.
As the shipyard workers in Gdansk marched toward St. Brygida’s Church, a crowd of supporters chanted: “Thank you, thank you,” and “There is no freedom without Solidarity.” The strikers and the crowd sang the national anthem just before the shipyard gates swung open.
“Every Pole is with us today,” the crowd shouted.
The government welcomed Walesa’s appeal to end the strikes, but also announced that a policeman died while on duty inside the strikebound Stalowa Wola steel mill in southeast Poland on Wednesday night.
“It is not known if he was murdered or committed suicide under psychological terror or persecution. I am awaiting results of the investigation,” government spokesman Jerzy Urban said today.
Solidarity spokesman Piotr Niemczyk in Warsaw said strikers reported that a policeman committed suicide by shooting himself.
In a breakthrough meeting with Walesa on Wednesday, senior government officials promised talks on reinstating the banned free trade union movement and jointly solving the country’s social and economic problems.
End to Strikes
In exchange, the officials demanded an end to Poland’s most serious wave of strikes in seven years.
Walesa won agreement to end the strikes from workers at the Lenin shipyard and a separate repair shipyard as well as the Gdansk port after he went to all three facilities to deliver his appeal.
Walesa’s meeting with Communist authorities Wednesday was his first since they outlawed Solidarity in 1982. Previously, the government had refused to treat him as anything more than a private citizen.
Niemczyk said workers at the July Manifesto mine in southern Poland said they would not end their occupation strike until local issues of pay and work conditions are settled and until Walesa visits the mine to explain his appeal.
In an initial reaction to Walesa’s statement, strike leaders in Szczecin, the country’s other main Baltic port, said they would not automatically end their strike while local grievances were still pending, he said.
Booing and whistles were heard at an early morning rally at the Lenin shipyard where Walesa works when the strike committee announced a narrow vote to end the stoppage.
Walesa appeared to need all his legendary persuasive skills to win over the workers. He told the rally his meeting with Gen. Czeslaw Kiszczak, minister of internal affairs, had been “awful” and admitted he had won no guarantees that the ban on Solidarity would be lifted.
“But we cannot achieve anything more at this time,” he said. “I assure you this decision is not cowardice but responsibility. . . .”