Despite the obvious transformation in Polish society following two months of labor unrest. It is the change in the workers -- their new-found political consciousness -- that is most significant.
In the end, this new political awareness boiled down to their intransigence on the single issue of trade unions independent of the Communist Party. It made the workers, unlike strikers in the past, less prepared to accept the government's repeated statements of good intent without some guarantees of the permanence of the reforms.
Although the strikes began in early July over higher meat prices, by the time they spread, to the Baltic Coast two weeks ago the workers had expanded their demands to political issues.
One striker in Gdansk this week expressed this sentiment of change when he said, "We've been promised reforms in the past -- and later disappointed as they were first granted and then taken away. This time we're not so stupid as we once were."
A large group of strikers gathered around as he talked. Soon they were all joining in. They said the strikes this time differed from December 1970, when 55 people were killed by police in Gdansk following workers riots.
One striking worker said the changes in mental outlook may have surfaced dramatically now, but they were long in the making.
"The worker is not what he used to be 35 years ago," he said. "We are better educated now, more aware of what is going on around us."
It is in Gdansk, and other cities hit by strikes, that the changes in Polish life are most obvious: the uninhibited political arguments, the growing self-confidence of the workers, and a new mood welling up from within the Communist Party of openness and determination to implement reforms. The last two weeks have provided a king of crash course in politics for Polish workers.
Sociologically, it is interesting that most of the present strikes have taken place in parts of Poland that were acquired from Germany after World War II. Gdansk, or Danzig as it used to be known, was a free town before the war.
But the German population moved away and a huge wave of Polish migration moved in from eastern lands handed over to the Soviet Union after the war. As a result, the work force in the former German territories in the west tends to be young and rottless -- but also dynamic.
I asked strike leader Lech Walesa how he thought Poland had changed during the past two weeks. As any good trade union negotiator, he replied, "I don't see Poland, I only see 21 demands." Then he laughed loudly, as though he did not really mean it.
Of course, Poland also has changed.
"When you come back and see Cardinal [Stefan] Wyszynski [the head of the Roman Catholic Church] speaking for 30 minutes on state television and then next morning you see people actually queueing up to buy censored newspapers, you know there's been some sort of revolution," said a Polish tourist who returned home after two weeks abroad.
Censorship certainly has not been relaxed entirely, as it was in Czechoslovakia before the Soviet invasion in 1968, but the press has become much more interesting. Warsaw dailies, for instance, have been carrying long, colorful and largely objective accounts of the negotiations in Gdansk.
Previously taboo, the word strike has become an accepted part of the journalistic vocabulary.
But there are also little incidents that reinforce the strikers' suspicions of official intentions.Several days ago, a Polish magazine published a picture of the committee hall at the Lenin Shipyard where the strike committee representing different factories was meeting. Crudely painted out from the photograph was a crucifix, which the strikers had placed next to the Polish national symbol, the double-headed eagle. The Communist Party has historically tried to downplay the significance of the religion, but in Poland, officials have tried to maintain a delicate balance between the state and the Roman Catholic Church, to which a large majority of Poles belong.
Given the Communist Party dominance over political life, some of the most crucial changes have been taking place within the party. They have largely been hidden from public view, but one Polish Communist spoke of a new atmosphere of spirited debate at meetings around the country. "Once again, party members are taking an interest in what is happening," he said. "People who have just listened passively 30 years are now opening their mouths."