Labor unrest spread today to more Polish cities, and leaders of a general strike paralyzing the country's northern Baltic Coast insisted on their demand for completely free trade unions.
The unyielding workers' position was met by an escalation in the warnings coming from the government. The Communist Party newspaper Trybuna Ludu, in a gravely worded editorial to appear in Wednesday's editions, warned of "the possible danger of anarchy" and expressed fears for "the future fate of the country" if the unrest continued.
New strikes were reported in the cities of Lodz and Wroclaw in the southwest of Poland, where all public transport was halted.Workers at several factories in the region also occupied their plants in sympathy with the strikers in the north.
The unrest is now believed to involve at least 600 factories across Poland, with more than 500,000 workers out on strike.
In Gdansk, in a second round of formal talks with government negotiators, strike leaders rejected a compromise under which fresh elections within official trade unions would be held by secret ballot.
During the talks, the workers' representatives warned that the labor unrest, which was triggered by a rise in meat prices on July 1, could now spread throughout Poland unless the government acted swiftly to end the crisis. So far, the industrial heartland of Silesia in the south has been largely unaffected by the strikes.
Meanwhile, informed Polish sources in Warsaw have disclosed that Communist Party chief Edward Gierek held consultations with Soviet leaders on Sunday prior to the dismissal of Premier Edward Babiuch and several hard-liners in the party's ruling Politburo. The meeting, reportedly attended by several Soviet Politburo members but not President Leonid Brezhnev himself, took place in the town of Bialowieza in eastern Poland near the Soviet border.
[The Soviet Union, apparently trying to defuse speculation that it might intervene in Poland, said today that the Polish political crisis is "purely an internal affair," The Associated Press reported from Moscow.]
Speaking to a packed hall of more than 1,000 delegates representing workers at nearly 500 factories in the Gdansk region, a strike leader said, "Unless we solve this soon, there'll be delegations coming here from all over the country."
The attitude of the strikers here appears to be hardening every day that the crisis continues, and they feel increasingly confident of their strength. Today, in emotional scenes at strike headquarters at the Lenin Shipyard, they received pledges of support from trrade unionists in France, Norway, and several other Western countries.
A delegate from the French non communist trade union, Confederation Francaise Democratique du Travail, representing 1.3 million workers, appeared in person at the shipyard and handed over a donation of about $2,500 to strike leader Lech Walesa. He was applauded loudly when he shouted in French, "Long live the Polish workers' struggle."
After, Walesa burst in: "If they don't negotiate with us properly soon, we may quickly become an international strike committee."
The increasing dimensions of the movement for free trade unions in Poland has placed the country's communist authorities in a serious predicament. They continue to rule out the setting up of new independent bodies, promising only that the official unions will be reformed.
This is in line with a policy agreed to by the Kremlin in an attempt to contain the Polish crisis and safeguard the Communist Party's monopoly of power. While Soviet leaders are prepared to allow Gierek some leeway in introducing reforms, they are insisting that there should be no structural changes in Poland's one-party system.
In its editorial, the Communist Party newspaper Trybuna Ludu recalled that Poland was in the direct security zone of a world socialist power and also one of the important factors in the stability of Europe. In ominous tones, it warned that "an escalation of the strikes could bring Poland to the brink of catastrophe."
As a scenario for such a catastrophe, the newspaper recalled Poland's historical experience at the end of the 18th century when the country was partitioned between Germany and czarist Russia.
The editorial amounts to the most explicit warning yet of a possible Soviet intervention in Poland if the government is unable to control the strikes.
The issue of free trade unions has now emerged as crucial to a resolution of the crisis. At a meeting today with Deputy Premier Mieczyslaw Jagielski, strike leaders said only the establishment of completely independent unions could counteract the mistakes of central planners and ensure that worker's rights are permanent safeguarded.
Bogdan Lis, a member of the strike committee, told Jagielski, "We do not want to change old blood for new, we want a completely new organism."
Jagielski, who was supported by a 15-man negotiating team, listened carefully to the strikers' demands but made no fresh concessions beyond those already granted at last Sunday's Communist Party Central Committee meeting. He confirmed that the right to strike would be included in a new law on trade unions to be submitted later this year to the Polish parliament.
Earlier, it was expected that Poland's new premier, Jozef Pinkowski, or possibly even Gierek himself, would meet the strikers. While such a gesture might have had some effect a week ago, many delegates to the integrated strike committee said that it would now make no difference.
"What we're interested in is free trade unions, not more promises from the leadership," said one delegate.
Jagielski said he associated himself with many of the criticisms leveled against the official unions by the strikers. He attacked the unions for failing to defend workers' rights in the past and promised urgent reforms.
In Warsaw, a plenary session of the trade unions was held today, following the dismissal of their former chief, Jan Szydlak. Speakers called for the strengthening of the organization and the formal approval of its right to criticize government policies.
Polish television tonight took the rare step of broadcasting a sermon by the primate of Poland, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, in which he spoke of the country being "filled with unrest to the brim."
On this occasion, the cardinal appeared to support pleas by the authorities for an end to the strikes. He called repeatedly for hard work and a sense of responsibility.
"The right to refrain from work can be very costly," the cardinal said. He added that, although the workers' demands were justified, they could not be met all at once.
Cardinal Wyszynski's speech was shown on television immediately after the main news. Even though his message was quite acceptable to the government, the event reflects the fact that many of the traditional taboos imposed by the censor have been relaxed in the emergency of the past few days.
Local radio stations in Gdansk even took the extraordinary step of broadcasting a report on the negotiations at the Lenin Shipyard, including not only speeches by government representatives but also by strike leaders. Just a week ago, such frankness would have been unthinkable in the Polish media.
But tonight a television commentator reminded his audience that there are still two subjects of which censorship could not be relaxed, Poland's alliance with the Soviet Union and any discussion of the Communist Party's ruling position.
Relaxation of censorship in Czechoslovakia during the Prague Spring of 1968 alarmed the Kremlin and paved the way for the Soviet invasion. Despite demands by the strikers for the abolition of censorship. Polish leaders have moved much more cautiously than the Czechoslovaks in 1968.
In Gdansk, a commission of experts was established with three representatives from each side to consider whether it was possible to reach a compromise on the issue of independent trade unions. Observers believe that if this question can be settled, the strikers' outstanding economic demands can also be quickly negotiated.
Addressing the strikers in a speech that was relayed by loudspeakers from a small meeting room, Jagielski promised higher family allowances, the improvement of medical services and higher wages. He also dealt with a complaint of meat shortages, by saying that there would be larger imports from abroad this year.
But this did not satisfy the delegates, who returned again and again to the theme of independent unions. One member of the strike committee, Andrej Gwiazda, said that temporary concessions were not sufficient and that it was necessary to find a permanent solution to Poland's political and economic crisis.
"Poles have had enough of hearing that things have gone wrong again. We can avoid many of the mistakes of the past but only if workers are given full freedom of expression," he said.