Hundreds of thousands of Polish workers staged strikes across the country today to protest government refusal to compromise on the issue of work-free Saturdays.
The strike wave, which was larger than predicted and affected more than 800 factories today, followed six-hour talks last night in which the government and the union confederation failed to settle their differences over the number of work-free Saturdays.
The government sent police reinforcements to the strike-hit city of Bydgoszcz, about 150 miles northwest of Warsaw, where farmers campaigning for the right to set up their own rural union had tried to move with their tractors to stage a downtown protest rally Friday.
Police blocked all roads leading to the city and, according to a union confederation spokesman, had "warned protesting farmers that they would face punishment if they forced their way in."
New strikes planned Friday increased tensions here once more with the prospect of another Saturday work boycott by millions of Poles. The government, in an ominous warning, accused the workers of "inadmissible abuse" of their right to strike, which was granted by the government five months ago after a summer of nationwide labor unrest.
In another sign of increasing tension, Polish officials ordered at least five Western journalists and a photographer, including correspondents from the three major U.S. television networks, to leave the coutry.pose a major challenge to Poland's new Communist Party leadership as well as the Soviet Union's influence in the tense region. While the Soviet press has been largely silent on the matter in recent days, the Kremlin has made it clear that it expects Polish authorities to resolve the issue.
The current dispute centers on how many Saturdays a month should be work days. Solidarity, the major confederation of independent unions formed after last summer's strikes, contends that the government says it agreed last August to a five-day work week. The government says it agreed simply and that for now, the Polish economy can afford only two non-working Saturdays a month.
Solidarity said in a statement today that a delegation headed by its leader, Lech Walesa, had met with Prime Minister Jozef Pinkowski and offered a compromise in which Poles would work at least one Saturday a month but that this had been rejected.
"In proposing a compromise, Solidarity was seeking every possible way to solve the conflict," the union statement said. "By rejecting the proposals, the government has taken upon itself the responsibility for the consequences."
The union said the government also refused Solidarity's proposal to hold a televised debate on the issue of free Saturdays.
Solidarity said factory workers, bus drivers and office employes stopped work today for one to four hours in at least 10 cities.
The stikes hit the Baltic seaport of Gdansk, the industrial city of Poznan, the copper-mining basin of Legnica, Czestochwa, Kielce, Random and other cities, according to Solidarity officials.
Further strike action was planned in other cities Friday, including Warsaw where 40 factories as well as municipal bus drivers threatened to stop work for four hours.
The government and Solidarity agreed to hold further talks on the free-Saturday issue and on many outstanding problems that are increasingly souring their relations. Warsaw radio reported tonight that the two sides were divided by one hour on the length of the workweek, with Solidarity proposing a 41 1/2-hour week while the government insisted on a 42 1/2-hour week. The present workweek is 46 hours.
The other problems include failure by the authorities to promulgate a new law relaxing censorship, continued detention of dissidents, refusal to grant Solidarity access to the radio and television and the question of meat and butter rationing.
The government, which appears to have decided on a new tough line with Poland's free trade union movement, reiterated today that Poland could not afford to stop work every Saturday.
"Government representatives pointed out at the same time the inadmissible abuse by Solidarity of the right to stike in forcing through its stand on Saturdays, and reaffirmed that Saturday, Jan. 24, is a normal working day in accordance with earlier decisions," an official statement said. [Across the border in East Germany, the East German Communist Party newspaper cited what it described as the country's economic success over the past year as evidence that the officially controlled trade unions were right to give their full support to the government. Commenting on East Germany's progress in 1980, when it chalked up an economic growth rate of over 4 percent, the daily Neuses Deutschland said this had been achieved because the population had supported the policies of the leadership.]
The official Polish news agency PAP said tonight that workers had again made use of strikes, which it called "a weapon that was to have been treated as the last resort."
In addition to correpondents from the three major U.S. television networks, the Western journalists ordered out of the country today included two representatives of Time magazine and an Austrian photographer.
Time's East Europe correspondent Barry Kalb said he and his colleague, Richard Hornik, were called into the passport office and told they must leave Poland by midnight Friday. Polish authorities gave no explanation, he said.
The three U.S. networks and Time magazine were told to leave the country after they applied for permanent accreditation in Poland.
The exit orders were a technicality for most of the journalists involved, since their visas were due to expire tomorrow, although they had sought extensions. Kalb's visa was to have been good until Feb. 8.
Last week, six Western journalists, including two Americans, were told to leave Poland.