The decision by a Warsaw court to register Poland's independent trade union federation, Solidarity, under conditions unacceptable to the union has stretched the credibility gap again between Polish workers and the Warsaw government.
In a country whose political and economic jigsaw is already jumbled enough, for the new unions to be making such a fuss over the wording of a couple of paragraphs in their charter -- especially on principles they already have accepted elsewhere -- would appear as little more than overdrawn quibbling.
After all, the government did agree to register Solidarity, giving it legal status, and that would seem to be the important thing.
Every step of the way in the early life of Poland's new independent union movement is a major test of the new worker-government relationship because nothing like this movement has been allowed to exist in Eastern Europe, because the workers are deeply skeptical that their new freedoms will hold, and because Poland's socialist allies would prefer that they did not.
The mishandling of the registration issue -- mishandling in the sense that workers and the government have been polarized again -- points up how touch-and-go this whole process still is.
Waiting for the decision in a courthouse corridor yesterday, Lech Walesa, the Gdansk labor leader, had been confident that the registration would go through without a hitch.
He had talked, prematurely it turned out, of turning the attention of the new unions full-time to organizing and learning to work within the Polish system. Walesa sounded a conciliatory note toward the government.
"we got understanding from the government," he told a group of reporters. "Now it's time the government got a bit of understanding in return."
Walesa's remark reflected the small but significant sense of mutual trust that was beginning to grow between union organizers and Polish authorities. After the Gdansk agreement, which gave workers the right to form free trade unions and other freedoms, authorities made it their first order of business to assure workers that the guarantees would be honored. Moreover, the nature of the top-level changes that have taken place in the Polish Communist Party in recent days seemed to signal a strengthening of the hand of progressive forces who favor living up to the agreement.
But the court's decision appears to have set back whatever gains in worker-government understanding had been built up.
In a statement issued by Solidarity today from its headquarters in Gdansk, the national union denounced the court decision as undermining "the Gdansk agreement and all other principles of the social contract and dialogue between the authorities and the community." It also read old suspicions into the government's action.
The statement said the ruling showed that the state was still out to capture control of the mass labor movement, that it seemed that authorities had only agreed to the establishment of independent unions as a "tactical move" and that their real intention was to subordinate the new unions as soon as possible.
These are references to the court's insistence that the Solidarity statute include a statement attesting to the leading role of the Communist Party in the state and other Communist principles. Union representatives had objected to this on the ground that such a political statement had no place in the charter of what organizers say will be a totally apolitical group.
The union also accused the government of considering withdrawing the right to strike, which was granted in the Gdansk agreement. The court threw out draft clauses defining the right to strike and substituted for them a clause that said the right to strike could only be exercised if "all other available means" were exhausted and would have to come "within binding legal norms."
At the moment, Poland has no laws about strikes. A special commission has been instructed to prepare one.
"Referring to a law that is not yet enacted may suggest that the authorities intend in practice to take away the right to strike from the unions," the Solidarity statement said.
Although angered by the court action, Solidarity leaders have judiciously refrained from any rash moves, going only so far as to declare they would appeal to the Polish Supreme Court.
It is possible to fault the workers themselves for pressing their good fortune, for standing too much on principles.
The government, however, seemed to err as well by leading workers to expect that the court would accept a side protocol answering the government's objections while leaving the draft statute unchanged. Having anticipated this sort of compromise, the final decision came across to workers all the more as a sort of coup de force.
Poland's official media sought today to justify the judgment. Trybuna Ludu, the party paper, said: "Even the sharpest discussions and activities cannot skip the fundamental principles upon which our state rests. That is the primary duty of each citizen and patriot."
The fundamental principles are the leading role of the Communist Party in the state, the social ownership of the means of production, and the inviolability of international alliances.
Another Warsaw daily, Zycie Warszawy, called the decision "good news for all those who are for the process of socialist renewal, for all those who believe that the activity of the new trade unions will usher new values into our life."
The most carefully reasoned official commentary on the judgment came tonight in a television statement by Kazimierz Kakol, a government spokesman.
The fact that the registration took place, Kakol said, is "yet another meeting halfway" between the workers and Polish authorities. He said that if Solidarity representatives were willing to state certain principles desired by the government in a protocol, they should be willing to have them included in the statute. Solidarity's main argument that making the changes the court wanted would endow it with an undesirable political aspect was "substantial," said Kakol. "But if such a correction were not included," he added, "and if the union continued to refuse to make such a declaration then this also is a political gesture."
Concluding, he said "We have now had enough of these trials of strength which lead to weakness," called for respect for law, common sense and social peace.