In a sweeping move to end the labor unrest that has paralyzed this country, Poland's Communist Party today fired Premier Edward Babiuch and several other high officials involved with labor and industry and promised to allow free elections for new leadership in the official labor unions.
The changes, which included the biggest shuffle in Poland's ruling ranks in 10 years, were announced following an emergency meeting of the Communist Party Central Committee, which also considered propals for far-reaching political and economic reforms.
Party leader Edward Gierek, whose position appeared to be unaffected by the sweeping changes, said in a televised portion of speech he made at the meeting that the intention was "to remove the cause of discontent" that led to the strikes.
"Our party wants to honestly correct its policy," Gierek said.
Describing the personnel changes as signaling a new turn in Polish political life. Gierek said: "We have called to responsible posts those comrades who perceived the growing irregularities earliers and tried to counteract them. We did not heed their voice in time."
After the moves were announced, a government spokesman said be believed the right atmosphere had been established for a quick return to work in more than 500 factories being occupied by striking workers.
"This is a victory for realism," he said.
Gierik's speech was relayed by loudspeakers at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk, which has been occupied by workers for the past 11 days and serves as strike headquarters for the entire Baltic coast. Foreign journalists at the shipyard reported that many strikers appeared impressed by the magnitude of the changes but still were reserved.
After the speech, many workers sang the Polish national anthem and gave victory signs to each other. But the unofficial strike leader, Lech Walesa, described the personnel changes as "patching up holes."
"We want something new," he said.
Another strike committee member commented: "The new team may be more democratic, but in essence it changes nothing. There is only a small chance that we will reach agreement as a result of this."
Earlier it was believed that Gierek's position had been endangered by the labor unrest, but for the moment he has retained the Communist Party leadership. However, his authority has been reduced by the inclusion of rivals in the Politiburo, including Stefan Oiszowski who was dismissed from the leadership earlier this year and sent to East Berlin as ambassador.
A former foreign minister, Olszow ski has both international experience and economic expertise. Below his dismissal, he had the reputation of being an energetic and pragmatic politician associated with reformist trends.
Appointed as acting prime minister was Jozef Pinlowsky, who has wide experience in party and administrative affairs. Among the hard-line politicians fired and disgraced were Jerzy Lukaszewicz, who was in charge of ideolobical and propaganda problems. His replacement, together with that of the head of state television and radio, could be a sign that the authorites are also prepared to go some way toward meeting the striker's demand for a relaxation of censorship.
By themselves, the personnel changes are unlikely to lead to a change of heart among the strikers since there is considerable cynicism in Poland about all Communist Party leaders, including those who have presed for reforms. But there is a chance that, taken as a package, the Central Committee's decisions could break the deadlock.
The key point is the plan for trade union reform. By promising that strike leaders can be elected to the existing trade unions, Gierek is hoping that the strikers will drop their demand for "free" trade unions independent of the Communist Party.
A government spokesman said that the right to strike would be formally included in a new law on trade unions to be put before the Polish parliament later this year. The trade union chief, Jan Czydiak, who last week angered the strikers by describing their action as "terroist," was among four policitcians dismissed from the Politburo.
Also dropped was Tadeusz ywrzaszck the head of the State Planning Commission, which has come under heavy criticism in recent months. Cabinet ministers dismissd included three deputy prime minister, the finance minister, and the heavy machinery minister, in addition to Babiuch. Babiuch, whose actionin raising meat prices July 1 triggered the present crisis, had been appointed premier only six months ago in a move to improve the country's economic management.
In his speech, Gierek stressed that, while the communist system in Poland could be reformed, its fundamental structure could not be challenged. In an apparent attempt to reassure the Kremlin that Poland's loyalty to commuism was not in question, he said: "Only socialist Poland can be an independent state within durable borders and with international prestige."
Following the Central Committee session, Deputy Premier Mieczyslaw Jagielski was scheduled to return to Gdansk for further round of negotiactions with strikers' representatives.
Earlier today, leaders of different groups of Polish strikers along the country's Baltic coast decided to join forces. Until today, there was no direct communication between the three intergrated strike committees that were set up to represent workers at more than 500 different factories in the ports of Gdansk, Szczecin, and Elbalag Contact was made today when representatives of each committee met at the Lenin Shipyard. The delegates agreed to set up a common trade union structure.
Together with strikers occupying the plant, they attended a mass at which a mesage from Pope John Paul Ii was read calling for peace in his homeland and the respect of social justice. The letter, which was sent to Cardinal Stefan Wyszinski, was also read in churches throughout Poland today.
News had leaked out at the Lenin yard today of a toughly-worded letter from party leaders sent to Poland's 3 million Communist Party members on Aug. 19. The letter called on party members to stand united and rebuff what it described as attempts to spread disorders within the country.
In an apparent reference to the possiblility of Soviet intervention it said: "We must be aware that the security and independence our country have not been given to us forever."
The letter was written at a time when the communist authorities were taking a hard-line toward the strikers and before they agreed to recognize the existence of the intergrated strike committees.
Before today, the talks had made most progress in Szcezcin near the East German border, where the government was represented by another deputy prime minister, Kazimierz Barcikowski. The three Szczecin delegate, who were escorted by an official car on their 200-mile drive to Gdansk, reported that Barcikoswski appeared more flexible than Jagielski and projected himself as a leader who could make decisions.
On the strikers' key demand for independent trade unions, Barcikowski was said to have agreed that new political and social organizations could be set up as long as they were not incompatible with Poland's one-party system. He also said that, subject to negotiations now underway with the Roman Catholic church, to which a majority of Poles belong, it might be possible to broadcast Sunday mass on state television. The lack of access to news media has long been a major complaint of Poland's powerful Catholic church and has been included in lists of grievances presented by some strikers. c
On the strikers' complaint about privileged groups in society, Barcikoski suggested that shipyard workers also be given special privilege cards. The cards, which are issued to some party members and certain workers such as miners, grant improved access to many basic items in short supply and also discounts.
In Gdansk last night, Jagielski listened to the strikers's list of 21 demands and gave his general opinion on them. His frist 2 1/2 hour meeting with strike leaders was relayed by loudspeaker to workers outside, and their cheers and boos could be heard inside the hall.
Foreign journalists present in the yard said Jagielski adopted a calm and moderate apparoach, hinted at high-level personnel changes, and was critical of government policies during the last few years.
"I want to be an honest man -- and to look both Gdansk and Poland straight in the face . . . Something has gone wrong with the management of this country," he told the 19 strikers' representatives.
Jagielski, who is also a member of the Politburo, described the strikers' demand for a $68 pay increase for all workers as unrealistic and unfair explainning that it would only fuel inflation. Instead he suggested that that those with the lowest wages should get the biggest increases.