Poland's independent Solidarity union federation threatened today to call a nationwide general strike unless agreement is reached with the government on a wide range of disputed issues.
The threat of a general strike, which is to be preceded by a one-hour "warning strike" Tuesday, was partly intended to restore cohesion and unity to Solidarity's own ranks. Over the last few days, local union branches have restored increasingly to wildcat strikes to express grievances against the ruling Communist Party authorities.
Solidarity's national commission, during a meeting in Gdansk, called for an end to the uncoordinated local strikes, which continued today in several parts of the country. Workers in several hundred factories are protesting the government's alleged failure to implement agreements signed with strikers last summer along the Baltic Coast and in the mining region of Silesia.
In a statement released at the end of today's session, the commission appealed to the government to make use of the strike moratorium to start detailed negotiations. "We are ready to begin talks at any moment," the statement said.
In some respects, the crisis resembles the labor upheavals last November, when government ministers were flying from one end of the country to another to defuse local strikes. At the height of the unrest, a general strike was called in the Warsaw region over the issue of imprisoned dissidents. Later Solidarity's national commission declared a ban on strikes, which lasted until early January.
By its latest action, Solidarity's national commission is again attempting to reassert its authority over its own rank and file, while at the same time serving notice on the government that the issues in dispute are now national rather than local.
Under Solidarity's statutes, considerable power devolves to individual regional branches, which on several occasions have proved more militant than the national leadership headed by Lech Walesa. Last week, Walesa was effecitively overruled when he pleaded for modernation of the demand for immediate implementation of a five-day work week.
The communist authorities are also split between advocates of a tough line with Solidarity and supporters of the party leader, Stanislaw Kania, who favor negotiation and compromise. It is still not clear which faction has the upper hand.
An important meeting of the party's Central Committee scheduled for late this month has been postponed, leading foreign observers to conclude that the internal party debate over strategy still as not been settled.
According to today's Solidarity statement, a one-hour strike will be held at plants throughout the country on Tuesday unless agreement is reached with the government on three crucial points:
Payment for workers who stayed away from their factories on two Saturdays this month in response to Solidarity's declaration of a five-day working week. The union has accused the government of failing to implement promises to introduce a 40-hour week by Jan. 1.
Greater access for Solidarity to government-controlled news media and the restriction of censorship. While the authorities have agreed in principle to both these demands, mutually acceptable details have yet to be worked out.
Recognition of the right of farmers to form their own union. This demand is still under consideration by the supreme court, but has been strongly opposed by communist leaders, including Kania, who evidently consider it would amount to the formation of an independent political party in the countryside.
The Solidarity statement said that if Tuesday's warning strike failed to produce results, the commission would meet again Feb. 18 to draw up plans for a nationwide general strike.
Of the three outstanding issues, the dispute over free Saturdays appears the easiest to solve. The two sides are not all that far apart, despite the emotions the subject has generated. The government has offered a 42 1/2-hour week while the union would be prepared to accept 41 1/2 hours.
Given strong official opposition, the demand for an independent farmers' union is more complicated. Solidarity has drawn attention to the farmers' grievances by deciding to hold the second day of the national commission meeting in the southeastern town of Rzeszow where farmers have been occupying local administrative buildings.
Solidarity leaders were traveling overnight to Rzeszow, where Walesa -- who missed today's meeting in Gdansk -- has said he will stay until the dispute is settled.
In declaring a ban on strikes until Tuesday, the Solidarity commission made an exception for regions where local authorities had taken repressive action against the union. It is not clear whether this will apply to the southern city of Bielsko Biala, where up to 300 factories have gone on strike to demand the removal of several local officials.
News services added the following:
One of the signatories of the labor accords that ended last summer's strike wave said he was resigning as regional boss of Solidarity.
In an open letter published in the Polish press, Jaroslaw Sienkiewicz, head of Solidarity's branch at Jastrzebie, in Silesia, said he had been subjected to character assassination because of his membership in the Communist Party. He said he had incurred the wrath of other Solidarity activists for opposing excessive involvement in the union's affairs by advisers associated with the dissident Committee on Social Self-Defense (known as KOR) and a Catholic group known as Neo-Znak.
In Moscow, the Soviet Army newspaper renewed sharp charges of NATO interference in Poland, accusing the alliance of "political sabotage" and trying to split Poland from the Warsaw Pact.
The article in Red Star was written by Igancy Krasicki, a news analyst for Poland's leading Communist Party newspaper Trybuna Ludu.
"The crude interference of the West, above all of the NATO member countries, in Poland's home affairs is a carefully preplanned political campaign of political sabotage against the socialist community," he wrote.
"They are pressing for Poland's gradual pullout from the Warsaw Treaty Organization."