Willing to Open Talks, Walesa Says : Solidarity Chief Ready Despite Warsaw’s Stand on Union
Solidarity leader Lech Walesa said Friday he is willing to open discussions with the Polish government, even though the Communist Party’s proposal to consider legalizing the union falls short of a guarantee of legal status.
“I will reach toward agreement,” Walesa said after addressing a meeting of workers at the Gdansk shipyard where Solidarity was formed in 1980.
“Seeing all needs and necessities,” he said, “I will try to do everything on my side to begin talks about Poland at the round table as soon as possible.”
Banned Since 1981
Walesa’s comments were in response to a Communist Party position, arrived at after intense discussion Monday and Tuesday, agreeing to negotiate Solidarity’s reinstatement as a legal trade union. The union has been banned since 1981.
Poland’s Communist leaders made the difficult choice, reversing seven years of official policy, in an effort to win Solidarity’s support for economic and political reforms. An effort, begun by the government in August, to hold talks with Walesa and other union leaders had stalled when Walesa refused to continue with the discussions until the government issued a clear statement of its intent to legalize the union.
Party leader Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, who resorted to threatening to resign in order to push the proposal through a reluctant party Central Committee, called the initiative by the party “momentous,” and said it represented a “turning point” for the country.
Early in the debate, Premier Mieczyslaw F. Rakowski proposed setting conditions for legalizing Solidarity--a two-year moratorium on strikes, a renunciation by the union of “radical” opposition groups and of foreign support, and a declaration by it that it is “an integral part of socialism.” But by the time Jaruzelski issued a public invitation to Solidarity on Thursday, he was stressing only one condition, that the union abide by “the constitutional and legislative order and trade union statutes.”
The Polish economy is burdened with a $39-billion foreign debt, rising inflation and consumer shortages. Economists and activists in both the party and the trade union have predicted that another year of labor unrest may be in the offing unless factory workers and a generally hard-strapped population feel that significant changes may be on the way.
The resistance among party conservatives was open and vociferous, resulting in the stormiest of the party’s Central Committee meetings in years, observers said.
Party officials, many of whom come from factories and other work units scattered widely across the country, said they felt that the sharp change in direction urged by the party leadership betrayed years of service to an official position declaring Solidarity an outlaw opposition group. Many speakers argued that the party was giving in to “disloyal,” “disruptive” and “anti-socialist” pressure.
Solidarity leaders have responded cautiously to the government’s new offer, and some activists are wary of being co-opted by the authorities.
Walesa said Friday that an official decision to go ahead with talks with the government would come after a meeting of the union leadership in Gdansk this weekend, but it was unlikely, union activists said, that the union’s national executive committee would reject the government’s approach.
A serious resumption of the talks would, as Jaruzelski hopefully suggested, mark a turning point in Polish politics. But the road to final legalization of the union is likely to be long.
Party activists say they realize that it is unlikely that Walesa can guarantee labor peace, but they nevertheless hope that his influence can calm a restive work force, which seemed to gather renewed determination and militancy after two serious rounds of strikes in 1988.
Solidarity’s activists point out that last year’s strikes were organized principally by a generation of workers younger than the union’s old-line leadership, which still holds the key positions assumed in the months of the union’s formation in 1980.
Resistance to the party’s action is also coming from leaders of the government-sanctioned trade union federation, the OPZZ. Alfred Miodowicz, the head of that union, warned Friday that unions competing for membership in workplaces could lead to unrest.
“The situation is very tense in the country,” he said, “and I think we are facing very serious events in enterprises.”
Attracted to Solidarity
Most observers believe that factory workers would move quickly to join Solidarity if the union were legally sanctioned, abandoning the official labor organization.
Party officials say the government’s long-range hope is to pull Solidarity into the government by apportioning seats to it in a reorganized Sejm, or Parliament.
Some Solidarity activists are wary of such a role, believing that the union could be compromised into partnership with the authorities, thereby sharing responsibility for a political and economic situation over which it would exercise little real control.
“I think we are into a new era,” said union activist Jan Litynski last week. “It is interesting, but it is also very scary.”