Poland's new Communist Party leader, Stanislaw Kania, traveled to the troubled Baltic Coast to shore up his position with militant workers and party officials today amid increasing concern about continuing strikes and broadened worker demands in other parts of the country.
As the new party chief took unusual steps to consolidate his control and perhaps head off new outbreaks of labor unrest among shipyard workers, a Polish deputy premier assured Western banks that the massive unrest that his cost this country's economy dearly would not affect repayment of billions of dollars in loans.
The loans will be paid "with the exactitude of a Swiss watch -- on time," said Deputy Premier Henryk Kisiel, as he outlined changes that are planned for the Polish economy.
Poland has almost $20 billion loans from the West, the largest such indebtedness by a Soviet Bloc nation.
Kania's trip to Gdansk was the Polish leader's first trip outside Warsaw since being named top official in a nation that barely knows him. The visit was reminiscent of a trip by Kania's predecessor, Edward Gierek, who also went to see militant workers shortly after becoming party chief in 1970.
The action then was considered quite unusual for a Communist Party leader and enhanced Gierek's popularity. In the same way, Kania's trip seemed a way for him to assert his new authority and gain credibility for Poland's damaged party leadership.
Polish television tonight carried a brief, silent clip of the 53-year-old, thickest Kania greeting shipyard workers in Gdynia near Gdansk. For most Poles, this was the first, moving view of their new leader. Kania is expected to visit miners Tuesday in the Silesian town of Katowice.
At the same time, sporadic strike activity continued throughout Poland in defiance of warnings from authorities that further labor unrest could imperil the historic agreements reached with shipyard workers and miners and meant to apply to all Polish workers.
Communist authorities clearly are disturbed about the broader nature of some of the new demands being raised by Polish workers.
While last week's agreements guaranteed independent trade unions, wage and benefit increases and censorship reform, workers in some areas are now calling for religious teaching in schools and changes in local party leadership.
The state radio reported that strikes were continuing in Bialystok, an industrial city about 100 miles northeast of here near the Soviet border, and in Kamienna Gora, Olzko, Elk and Tarnow. The radio made no mention of a reported strike in Mielec in the south, where nearly the entire work force at the state aircraft factory was said to be on strike.
A spokesman for the dissident Committee for Social Self-Defense said the plant has been struck since Thursday. The spokesman said a list of 45 demands had been presented, including the dismissal of the local Communist Party chief, the introduction of religious instruction at state schools, and the transmission of mass and religious lessons by church-appointed teachers over the state radio.
Meanwhile, Mieczyslaw Rakowski, Poland's most prominent journalist and a secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, made a solemn appeal on tonight's television news for an end to the strikes.
"The current strikes damage the chance to lead the economy out from a difficult situation and limit the posibility of removing evils from our life," he said.
As the political maneuvering and strike activity continued, Kisiel, the deputy premier, confidently asserted at a two-hour news conference with foreign journalists that Poland would not ask for a rescheduling of its debt payments "at this time," althought the country is reeling from production losses due to the strikes that topped $1 billion in August alone.
Recently, Warsaw received fresh pledges of $325 million in loans from a banking group headed by the Bank of America. Another $680 million came from a consortium of West German banks, and Austria granted $300 million in credit tied to future Polish coal deliveries.
"These are people who are courageous. They are wise, have common sense and a feeling for reality," Kisiel said, taking note of the loans. He called the new credits "a testimony of confidence" in the Polish economy.
"We will fulfill our obligations to foreign countries -- all of them," he said.
At the same time, Kisiel disclosed that the Soviet Union had made loans totaling $550 million to Polish since May, including one early last week.
The hard-currency loans were necessary, Kisiel said, because negotiations with Western banks for additional credit were taking longer than expected.
In recent days, the Warsaw government also has publicized emergency aid it is receiving from other Soviet Bloc countries -- most notably East Germany, which is said to be supplying Polish with a variety of goods -- from butter to home appliances -- to cover shortages aggravated by the strikes.
Poland's huge debt is a result of now-discredited economic policies followed by Gierek, who was dismissed last weekend after reportedly suffering a heart attack. The official Polish news agency PAP said the former party chief is now in satisfactory condition.
Gierek's strategy during his 10 years in power was to borrow heavily from the West for major investment projects to feed, clothe and satisfy a restless working population. But he left unchanged an economic system that in many ways remains as bureaucratic, rigid and centralized as when he came to power.
Kisiel also pledged reform, echoing a promise the Warsaw government has repeated at least once a day since the end of the major industrial strikes last week.
Many Poles, along with Western observers, remain skeptical that deep change will come. Economic reform has been under intense discussion among professional economists, journalists and party officials for several years in Poland, without much concrete effect.
Moreover, calls for new programs were made by the government after previous labor unrest in 1956, 1970 and 1976, but these were never fully implemented.
Kisiel, who is chief of Poland's planning commission, strongly indicated that things would be different this time. He spoke without a prepared text in an engaging, forthright, often offhand way about Poland's past problems and future plans.
Asked if Gierek was to blame for Poland's economic ills, Kisiel said it was "really nonsense" to tag one person with the responsibility for failure. As one of Gierek's original economic planners, Kisiel took some of the blame himself.
He said the policy of heavy borrowing launched in 1970 had been a correct one because Poland had very little debt at the time. The mistake came in not easing off in the mid-1970s when export markets weakened, Kisiel said.
Moreover, the huge investment projects on which the borrowed money was spent proved ineffective. Too much of what Poland did not need and could not export was produced, and not enough consumer goods got to market, Kisiel explained.
The result was an inbalance between what little money Poles had to spend and what they could buy. Standing in long lines for meat and other essential items is normal in Poland. Such imbalances in the market, Kisiel said, were "the most important things that contributed to the recent public revolt."
Restoring balance is the government's primary aim, he said. The general plan is to cut long-term investment and spur production of consumer goods.The exception will be in agriculture, where the government plans extra investment above that originally planned in a crash effort to step up efficiency in the fields.
The task of restoring balance between money and goods in Poland's planned economy, however, is complicated by the new labor agreements that contain pledges for increases in wages, family allowances, health and social benefits.
Kisiel said the increases would add the equivalent of $3.7 billion to the Polish economy.
Without the goods to spend all this new money on, Polish workers could turn militant again. Asked whether the flood or fresh cash could create a new crisis, Kisiel said the "entire test" of the new leadership would be in preventing just such a disequilibrium from worsening.
"Whether we succeed is a Hamlet question -- to be or not to be," the deputy premier said.
On structural reforms in the economy, Kisiel outlined three directions of likely change:
Increase the responsibility and independence of local business managements, coupled with a new law on worker self-government.
Increase the rights of local party officials, broadening their responsibilities from education, health and municipal services to include agriculture, road-building, housing and service industries.
Focus central planning on larger term plans.