Leaders of Poland's national independent trade union federation, Solidarity, today asked the country's premier for an urgent meeting to discuss grievences and defuse mounting tension between the workers and the government.
The offer, falling somewhere between an invitation and a demand, came during a confused and angry session of Solidarity representatives called to discuss Friday's decision by a Warsaw court to register the national union but change its statute in ways that the unions found objectionable.
Delegates condemned the changes -- which wrote communist principles explicitly into the charter and struck out a section defining the workers' new right to strike -- and reaffirmed their intention to appeal them to the supreme court.
At the same time, the union representatives stopped short of calling a strike to force a change, although sentiment as expressed in the movement's strong militant wing for such action.
A proposal to turn Solidarity's 50 branch union organizing committees back into strike committees was defeated. But Lech Walesa, the Gdansk labor chief, indicated that if the talks with he government were unsatisfactory, workers were prepared to walk out.
"I don't say no to a general strike," he told the union gathering in Solidarity's headquarters in a converted Gdansk hotel. "If we decide on one, I'll be the first to walk out front."
The workers' call for new talks left the next move to the government. Warsaw issued a statement tonight that said Premier Jozef Pinkowski had received Solidarity's invitation.
[United Press International reported Monday night that Pinkowski telephoned some union representatives and said he was unable to come but instead invited them to travel to Warsaw for a meeting Tuesday or Wednesday.]
Initially, Walesa proposed that Solidarity send Pinkowski an ultimatum, demanding that the premier come to the Lenin Shipyard here by 8 p.m. Tuesday for talks.
Such an arrangement would likely be untenable for the government, pressing it back to a climate to reminiscent of the summer. But pressure is exactly what the union delegates were after.
"We want pressure, we want the meeting to be in the shipyards," declared Anna Walentynowicz, the crane operator whose dismissal in August started the seacoast strikes. "without pressure the authorities won't do anything."
Significantly, though, the unions seemed inclined to be careful not to push things too far, recognizing all the new freedoms now at stake.
"We don't accept the statute changes, but we cannot accept a general strike," said Marian Jurczyk, chairman of the Szczecin branch. "If it failed, there would be complete tragedy and blood-shed. There are many Poles who would then say we had not used all possibilities" to reach agreement.
Appealing for a step-by-step approach, he was joined by other powerful union spokesmen, notably from the mining areas of Katowice and Jastrzebie, who cautioned that a general strike should be considered only as the ultimate weapon.
While determined to appeal the court-ordered statute changes, the union organizers appreared equally eager to use fully the registration that was granted in continuing to strengthen their groups. The official certification is expected to make it easier for the fledgling unions to open bank accounts, obtain office space and gain access to the Polish media.
In addition, union leaders hope to win the release of printing equipment sent as a gift to Solidarity by Western European trade unions.The equiptment has been impounded by Polish customs officials.
On the registration issue, should workers and government officials meet, there appears little area for compromise. The official Communist Party paper, Trybuna Ludu, today reinforced the government's position that the leading role of the party in the state and other communist principles must be stated explicity in Solidarity's charter.
"The insertion in question was necessary so that nobody will ever have any doubts as to the ideological character of the new union," the paper said. "All the documents of the trade unions that are being set up do not and cannot give any opportunities for free interpretation."
An encouraging sign that union and government officials are still able to negotiate other differences came early this morning with word that railway workers in the southwest city of Wroclaw had reached agreement with the government over new pay raises. The settlement, which required the personal intervention of Deputy Premier Alexander Kopec, ended a week-long hunger strike by several dozen of the workers.