In its first public statement on the strikes now paralyzing this country's Baltic Coast cities, Poland's Catholic hierachy today partially endorsed the demands of striking workers but also warned that a prolonged walkout was "against the good of the community."
In a carefully worded statement issued after consulting with Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, leader of the Polish hierachy, Gdansk Bishop Lech Kaczmarek expressed "understanding" for the 130,000 strikers while at the same time calling upon them to avoid "the shedding of brotherly blood" and to demonstrate "wise and reasonable action" in the handling of their demands.
The statement came as government negotiators met for the first time with the workers' general strike committees in the Baltic costal port of Gdansk, where the unrest is centered, and in the industrial city of Szczecin near the East German border.
This appeared to mark the opening of direct talks between the government and the workers' integrated strike committees, with which the government previously had refused to negotiate.
Recognition of these committees has been a major demand in the work stoppage. They are composed of representatives from numerous plants and are seen as embryonic independent unions, in contrast with the widely discredited state-controlled unions.
According to accounts from Gdansk, the joint strike committee at the Lenin Shipyard reported progress after an hour-long meeting with government officials. The delegates shouted, "Victory, Victory!" after an official agreed to visit the strikers in the yard on Saturday.
Dissident sources said the government had begun negotiations with a joint committee in Szczecin representing strikers from 60 factories, there. By meeting with the workers' committee, the government appeared to have accepted, at least for the moment, the strikers' demand to bargain for themselves.
The initial negotiations had no apparent effect on the general strike situation, and panic buying spread to Warsaw, creating serious supply problems for the Polish capital.
Polish dissidents dismissed the government offers made at today's talks as "only small concessions" and insisted the strike is prodemocratic and not antisocialist.
The Polish Communist Party's Politburo met in a special session today, Reuter reported from Warsaw. No details were available, and it was not even known how long the meeting lasted.
In Italy, Pope John Paul II said a mass for Poland from his summer residence at Castel Gandolfo without directly mentioning the country's current social strife. In a special prayer for Polish Cardinal Wyszynski, the pope called upon his native country to "remain faithful to Christ's message" and its leaders to "lead the country to peace and prosperity," Agence France-Presse reported. )
Defiant workers in strike-paralyzed Gdansk gave no sign of yielding to government or Roman Catholic Church pressure to end Poland's worst labor crisis since the one that brought down Communist Party chief Wladyslaw Gomulka a decade ago.
Dissidents there claimed workers have shut down more than 400 factories in the nine-day strike, but have issued no estimate of the numbers of workers involved since the figure of 130,000 given Thursday.
Residents of Warsaw, the capital, picked store shelves clean of canned goods, sugar and bread and waited in lines nearly a mile long to buy gasoline. But a widely rumored general strike here never materialized.
The walkouts began with demands for wage hikes to cover food price increases caused by withdrawal of subsidies the government felt Poland's stumbling, debt-ridden economy no longer could afford. Poland owes nearly $20 billion to Western creditors, and a consortium of international banks agreed Friday to lend it $325 million more.
As the strikes have spread, demands have also expanded, and they now include freedom of the press, economic and other reforms and independent labor unions.
As in other Soviet Bloc countries, labor unions in Poland are controlled by the Communist Party and strikes are illegal.
Dissident sources said today that five of the 24 activists arrested in mid-week in Warsaw and other cities had been released without charge. But still being held were Jacek Kuron and other leaders of the dissidents' Committee for Social Self-Defense. They had been providing reporters with information about the strikes.
In his attempts to end the strikes, Communist Party leader Edward Gierek personally has acknowledged that "mistakes" were made in managing the economy and promised economic concessions. Yesterday, he changed his chief negotiator.
The state radio again today reported a smattering of individual plants negotiated separate back-to-work agreements with the new government negotiator, First Deputy Premier Mieczyslaw Jagielski. But it also acknowledged the situation remained "very serious" in many areas.