A senior Polish official said today that the government does not plan to use force to crush a general strike that reportedly has spread to nearly 200 factories and shipyards.
Miroslaw Wojciechowski, director of the government news agency Interpress, acknowledged that there may have been an increase in military and police activity around Gdansk, the coastal city hardest hit by the strike. But he said this increase is not connected with the labor unrest, which has brought Poland its most serious crisis in 10 years.
Wojciechowski, who acts as the government's chief spokesman, also said the authorities would refuse to negotiate with the unified strike committee, established over the weekend to press for political change in the country as well as economic improvements.
Negotiations, he said, would be conducted only with individual plant unions and only on economic issues. Observers said the government's strategy appeared to be to win the support of the plant workers through better benefits and salaries while isolating the leaders of the so-called unified strike committee and their political demands.
Polish Communist Party leader Edweard Gierek rejected demands for political changes in a nationally televised address last night, saying that "on this fundamental problem, no compromise is possible."
President Henryk Jablonski was reported to be in Gdansk today along with Deputy Premier Tadeusz Pyka, who has been named to head the special commission dealing with the strikese that have paralyzed Poland's industrial north. Pyka's commission has refused to speak with the unified strike committee.
Premier Edward Babiuch was sent to Szczecin to attend a special meeting of the local Communist Party -- an indication that the same strategy of dividing the strikers would be used there next.
Both Polish dissidents and some foreign journalists have reported seeing columns of trucks with military personnel heading north toward the Baltic coast over the last few days.
But Wojciechowski told a press conference that the government neither felt the necessity nor had the intention of using force to end the strikes.
He also denied rumors in diplomatic circles in Warsaw that the coastal ports would be sealed off from the rest of Poland.Telephone and telex communications with the area have been severely hampered since the strikes began in Gdansk last Thursday.
Although there may be contingency plans for the use of force, it seems an unlikely option. This time the strikers are much better organized than in December 1970, when 55 persons, were killed in Gdansk after workers' riot. The risk of a violent backlash is too great.
The government still seems committed to end the crisis by negotiation. But Wojciechowski rejected any contacts with the unified strike committee that has set up its headquarters in the giant Lenin Shipyard in the center of Gdansk. Today the committee held its first plenary session, attended by delegations from at least 150 plants.
On the surface the positions of both sides are hardening. In his television address last night, Gierek reminded the Polish People of their country's geographical position as a buffer state for the Soviet Union.
He also made what later could serve as a justification for the use of force against the more militant strikers when he said some irresponsible individuals and antisocialist groups were attempting to exploit the strike for their own political ends.
At the Lenin Shipyard, workers reacted to the televised address with hostility or indifference. A strike committee spokesman said today that the people had lost confidence in Gierek, who came to power after a similar wave of labor unrest in Gdansk 10 years ago swept the authoritarian Wladyslaw Gomulka from office.
But despite the outward hostility between the two sides, there also are some signs of a solution to the strikes which have crippled economic activity along the coast. A careful reading of Gierek's speech shows that, while ruling out any fundamental restructing of Poland's communist system, he is determined to steer a more liberal economic course and possibly dismiss some of the hard-liners from leadership positions.
Many strikers realize that it is unrealistic to expect the government to meet their bolder political demands, such as the abolition of censorship and the release of political prisoners. The leader of the Lenin Shipyard strikers, Lech Walesa, has said he is prepared for compromise and negotiation.
What is emerging as the government's strategy is to encourage agreements between management and workers at individual factories. Some negotiations are continuing despite the unified strike committee's claim that it alone is empowered to talk to the authorities.
Officials hope that once other factories have gone back to work, strikers at the Lenin Shipyard will follow suit. The shipyard's director. Klemens Gniech, said he was still prepared to respect a tentative agreement reached last Saturday granting a 1,500 zloty ($50) monthly pay raise to all workers, as well as guarantees of security for strike leaders and improved family allowances.
But even if this optimistic scenario from the government's point of view does occur, it is clear that the rules of the Polish political game will have changed. Most startling has been the growth of a hughe movement for independent trade unions from what just a few months ago was a tiny band of dissident activists.
While government authorities may refuse to deal with the "free" trade unions, plant-level management will have little choice if their factories are to run efficiently. In Lublin, scene of a big railwaymen's strike last month, new elections have been held of the official trade union -- and many strike leaders have been elected.
Whether Gierek likes it, Poland has already changed as a result of this summer's labor unrest.