Leaders of Poland's national independent trade union federation agreed tonight to a showdown meeting with Premier Jozef Pinkowski in Warsaw on Friday, but set a Nov. 12 "strike alert" if the talks fail to settle deep grievances.
In as tense a climate as there has been between Polish workers and the government since summer, labor leader Lech Walesa met here this afternoon with Vice Premier Mieczyslaw Jagielski, who traveled from Warsaw for the urgent conference after union representatives yesterday insisted that the prime minister himself come to Gdansk.
The intense maneuvering between the young independent union movement and the Warsaw government is a key test not only of the new power relationship in Poland, but also of the contest between radical and moderate forces within the labor federation Solidarity itself.
During two days of meetings here union delegates debated fiercely what measures to take to persuade the government to act on nagging grievances. The final decision -- to meet Pinkowski on Friday in Warsaw under the pressure of a strike deadline -- represented a compromise, appealing both to moderates who argued for more talks and to a strong militant wing advocating a quick strike unless union demands were met.
The Nov. 12 date gives the country time to work out its latest crisis. The extent of the threatened strike, moreover, was left indefinite. A general strike appeared to have been ruled out as too costly and drastic a move at this time, with labor leaders instead opting for some sort of selective work stoppage with the sites still to be selected.
In any case, the union action makes Friday's talks crucial and places considerable pressure on the Warsaw government to find a compromise of its own to defuse the mounting confrontation.
Announcing the coming meeting on national television news tonight, a government press statement sought to dispel a sense of conflict.
"The authorities expect that the trade unions will cooperate in creating a climate favorable to the broadening of a new level of understanding," it said in part. "On this basis the premier gave a positive reply to the offer [for talks] of union representatives."
But union delegates will clearly be going to Warsaw angry. At the top of their list of demands is new assurances from the government that the free unions will be allowed to stay independent despite last week's ruling by a Warsaw court. The court registered the national federation, Solidarity, but in the process forced changes in the organization's charter -- one inserting an explicit statement of the leading role of the Communist Party in the Polish state, the other throwing out a clause defining the workers' new right to strike.
Although workers honored the leading role of the party and other communist principles in the agreement signed with government in Gdansk that ended the summer strikes here, they resist having such a statement included in the Solidarity statutes saying it would politicize what they insist is a nonpolitical union.
At the same time, the such wording be included is of critical importance not only to the government but particularly to Poland's socialist allies, already uneasy about the independent union alliance.
The question the unions themselves are asking is whether the granting of independence has been a tactical move by the Warsaw government in light of the court decision, which they fear is a sign of the government's determination eventually to subordinate the new movement.
A resolution issued by Solidarity's national coordinating committee spoke of "dangerous tension" among the workers as a result of the court decision and the need for a new agreement further to guarantee independence.
There is some question, though, how much popular support exists for a major strike over the registration issue, given the worsening shortages in Poland as a result of the summer's work stoppages and the fact that, after all, the government did register Solidarity if not on the union's own terms.
Speaking to these concerns, Walesa declared, "We want to have a strike. It must be noisy. But we don't want to bring too much harm to the economy."
The list union representatives will carry to Warsaw will go beyond the registration question to persistent complaints about insufficient access to the mass media and alleged government foot-dragging in living up to the pay rises promised in the Gdansk agreement.
Today's meeting between Walesa and Jagielski brought together two very familiar negotiating partners. The pair had sat across from each other through the tense labor talks here in August that led to the precedent-setting Gdansk accord granting the freedom to form independent unions.
Jagielski declined, however, to see Walesa in the shipyard surroundings as some union leaders urged, choosing instead the more official premises of the local government.
Walesa returned from his one-hour meeting not with Jagielski but with Jerzy Kotodziejski, a local official, who formally related the government's invitation to receive a Solidarity delegation in Warsaw.
The debate that followed over what to do -- whether to go or insist still on Pinkowski coming here, whether to declare a strike and what kind of strike it should be -- marked a critical juncture in the development of the new movement from revolutionary force to social power.