New strikes flared up across Poland today as workers pressed demands ranging from implementation of a five-day week t the dismissal of unpopular local officials.
The strikes, involving hundreds of factories from the East German border in the west to the Soviet border in the east, illustrated just how complex Poland's seven-month-old labor crisis has become. Although both Communist authorities and the new independent trade union Solidarity have expressed a readiness for negotiation, there is still no sign of talks being started.
The most extensive strikes today took place in the southern city of Bielsko Biala near the Czechoslovak border where workers called for the dismissal of several local officials. Solidarity spokesmen said some 300 plants would remain on strike until the arrival of a government delegation to negotiate their demands. The shutdown included a car factory employing 11,000 workers.
Last year strike action secured the dismissal of around 20 unpopular regional Communist Party chiefs and dozens more lower-level officials. But, as part of its new tougher policy, the government has so far resisted similar pressure this year.
The latest round of strikes across Poland was triggered when Solidarity accused the government of reneging on promises made last summer to introduce a five-day, 40-hour working week by Jan. 1. But in fact the real issues at stake are both wider and deeper -- and this was underlined by today's strikes.
At the heart of the crisis is mutual lack of confidence. Solidarity has accused the government of failing to implement all but two of the 21 points contained in the Gdansk agreement signed last August. Government spokesmen, meanwhile, have described Solidarity's disruptive tactics as "irresponsible and unreasonable" in view of the country's grave economic problems.
Disaffected groups involved in the latest surge of industrial unrest include peasant farmers pressing for their own union, students calling for educational reforms, and industrial workers expressing general grievances against the government.
Here in the capital, a token one-hour strike was called for Wednesday at movie theaters to protest a ban on a film depicting events during last August's strike along the Baltic Coast. The film, "Workers 80," has been screened widely before invited audiences, but has been withheld from general distribution.
Censorhsip is one of the series of sensitive issues where the Gdansk agreement appears to have raised as many problems as it has settled. The government has pledged to introduce a new more lenient censorship law -- but there are arguments over the form it shold take and Solidarity's right of access to the media.
Today's strikes were given extensive and objective coverage by television news bulletins. In a new step, television also carried a debate between government and Solidarity representatives about the country's problems.
Meanwhile, a senior Communist Party figure insisted today that the purge of incompetent officials must copntinue. In a newspaper article, Mieczyslaw Moczar, an increasingly influential figure in the ruling Politburo, said the party had to be purged not merely of corrupt members, but also "those who do not understand the new times and the new tasks."
He said Poland's future depended on a "wise and monolithic, and morally strong party."
According to Solidarity, six-hour strikes involving more than 100,000 workers took place today at 13 factories in the Silesian capital of Katowice, including the giant steelworks. There were other similar "warning" strikes in the nearby towns of Bytom and Jastrzembie. Bialystok in the northeast, and the textile city of Lodz in the west.
At Lodz, Solidarity officials said work came to a halt at more than 1,000 factories and other businesses for three hours. An estimated 7,000 students at Lodz University joined the protest, calling for a national student congress to be held Wednesday to discuss a national student protest.
Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, who has been attempting to reassert his hold on the movement since his return from Italy last week, went to the southeastern town of Rzeszow where peasants have been occupying local administration buildings. The peasants demands for legalization of a Rural Solidarity union have been rejected by the Communist authorities.
A sign of the importance that Solidarity attaches to the peasants' grievances came with the decision by the union's National Commission to meet in Rzeszow on Thursday. Sixty Solidarity delegates from all over the country will travel 500 across the country from Gdansk to hold the second part of their weekly meeting in the sleepy provincial town.
Meanwhile the Polish armed forces newspaper Zolnierz Wolnosci attacked Western press coverage of events in Poland, accusing unnamed Western magazines and radio and TV stations of waging "psychological war" in an attempt to destabilize Polish society and government. Several Western correspondents, including representatives of all three U.S. TV networks, have been asked to leave the country over the last few weeks.
Other visiting Western journalists have experienced greater difficulty in gaining entry visas to report events in Poland.
U.S. Ambassador Francis Meechan raised the treatment of American journalists during a meeting here today with the Polish deputy foreign minister. U.S. officials declined to comment on the talks, but it is believed he expressed concern at the expulsions.