Leaders of the independent trade union federation Solidarity said today that they will meet with the Polish government next week for talks on their demand for a five-day work week, and concerns of a confrontation over the issue eased as Solidarity's leader, Lech Walesa, said that a compromise is likely.
"Each person wants to work less and earn more, that's only natural," Walesa, visiting Rome said during a news conference there. "I'm sure that when we return to Poland we will be able to reach a compromise or an agreement on the issue of free Saturdays."
Today was an official free day -- one of two free Saturdays a month proposed by the government -- and there were no protests, unlike last week, when millions of workers stayed home without authorization.
It was also the 36th anniversary of the Soviet Army's liberation of Warsaw in World War II, and Warsaw and other towns and cities were decked with flags and Communist Party banners.
At union headquarters in Gdansk, a spokesman for Solidarity said, "We sent a telegram to the authorities and proposed to hold talks Jan. 21 or 22."
Deputy Premier Stanislaw Mach, speaking on television, hit out at Solidarity charges that authorites would retaliate against workers who stayed hom Saturdays, calling the charges "slander."
He also repeated the government position that those who do not work on designated Saturdays would not be paid and called new strike threats "a symptom of blackmail."
But Mach stressed, "All the problems that are controversial between the unions and the government can be settled during talks -- free Saturdays as well as other issues."
The labor and wages minister, Janusz Obodowski, in a television interview last night, offered Monday as a date for talks "because we must come out of this impasse" and said the government was preparing a document on the issue.
The government has proposed two free Saturdays a month or, alternatively, a five-day work week with a working day extended by 30 minutes to 8 1/2 hours, saying the shaky Polish economy could not support giving any more.
Walesa suggested that a possible compromise would be working fewer daily hours during a Monday-through-Saturday work week.
Walesa said his union, which was formed after last summer's nationwide strikes, "will resolve this without the intervention of others," and that while Poland's workers would continue to fight to press their goals, their fight "must be peaceful and not disruptive."
Asked about fears of possible Soviet intervention, Walesa replied: "It is not possible to fear friends. The only danger is that they might embrace us too tightly."
He said his union repeatedly has declared that it supports and believes in socialism, so there should be no reason for any foreign intervention in Poland.
"It's very hard to predict what would happen in our country, but Solidarity will try to solve all problems in a sensible way," he said.
Walesa arrived in Rome Tuesday for a week-long trip that has included meetings with Italian labor leaders and an audience with Pope John Paul II, who is from Poland. He is scheduled to return home Monday after another meeting with the pope Sunday.