The leader of the independent Solidarity trade union federation, Lech Walesa, today described Poland's new government as "our last salvation" and tried to persuade students to end a 24-day strike.
Walesa made his comments following a first meeting in Warsaw with the government's newly appointed chief negotiator with labor, Mieczyslaw Rakowski. He also confirmed that farmers had agreed to suspend their demands for registration of a rural branch of Solidarity until a new union law is passed by parliament.
A government commission is due to travel to the southeastern city of Rzeszow in the next few days to negotiate an agreement with farmers who have been occupying a local administrative building since last month. The agreement is to cover all their grievances with the exemption of rural Solidarity.
The breakthrough in the dispute with the farmers leaves the students the only major social group still in open conflict with the government. Some 10,000 students have occupied university buildings in the central city of Lodz and have received promises of support from students at other universities and technical colleges.
The sole outstanding issue in their dispute concerns the registration of a new independent students' union with the Ministry of Education. Government negotiators have insisted that additional clauses be inserted into the union's statutes recognizing the leading role of the ruling Communist Party and making future strikes subject to a nationwide referendum of students.
Walesa's intervention in the strike, Poland's longest so far, came as the Lodz students were debating whether or not to accept the government proposals. lEarlier this week, Education Ministry officials accepted student demands for dropping the compulsory study of Russian and Marxism, easing travel abroad, and ending a system of unpaid manual work during university vacations.
In return, the students did not press calls for a reduction in military service, the release of political prisoners, and an investigation into the powers of the security apparatus.
Two student delegates came here from Lodz today for a meeting with Walesa. Journalists overheard the Solidarity leader pleading with them to give the government of Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, the new premier, a chance.
Walesa said: "you must remember this is a new government and it wants to talk with us. We must be thoughtful. It is our last salvation."
Earlier, Walesa told a press conference that he wanted to have an early meeting with Gen. Jaruzelski. Asked for his reaction to the general's call for "90 strike-free days," he said Solidarity did not want to strike at all but it depended on the position taken by the government in negotiations.
The proposed new students' union would operate in competition with the existing Communist-controlled students' organization.
Settling the Lodz students' strike, which had been on the point of spreading nationwide, would mark the first real break for weeks in Poland's social and industrial unrest.
Over the last few days, pressure mounted on both students and government to settle the strike. Solidarity's national leadership threatened to withdraw its support for the strike, but students in Warsaw, Poznan, and Bielsko-Biala occupied some university buildings in sympathy.
A Lodz agreement would be intended to apply to all of Poland and therefore could mark a turning point in the country's academic life. It is expected to provide for greater autonomy for univversities and student participation in the running of faculties.
The students' chief investigator, Marek Perlinski, 26, said: "We haven't got all we wanted by any means, particularly on our political demands. But we have achieved practically all that was humanly possible in the academic field."
The first protest flared up in Lodz, a drab textile city in central Poland, at the beginning of January. But the strike proper did not begin until Jan. 21, when students of English occupied their faculty and drew up a list of some 50 demands ranging from the revision of Polish history books to higher university budgets.
Yesterday, the mock classical facade of the English Department was still covered with banners and slogans scrawled in red and black. For a Western visitor, the scene was like a flashback to the student protests of the late 1960s in America and West European universities.
Students sat around strumming guitars, playing cards or just dozing from exhaustion. In the "literature office," headquarters of the strike committee, a sleeping body lay across a row of filing cabinets.
One student said, "this has been a cathartic experience for us. It's exhausting, but it's also exhilarating. For the first time we have the feeling of being involved in the community, of participating in something important."
But there was also significant differences from student protests in the West. A lecturer pointed out that in Western countries, student protests are often directed against the university authorities. Here, the students claim to have had the support of most of claim to have had the support of most of the academic staff, and it was with the government that the negotiations were conducted.
Another difference was absence in Lodz of left-wing rhetoric. Quotations from Lenin were pasted on the walls, but were intended to be cheeky rather than reverential: "we want the government to be totally under control of public opinion" or "it's better to die fighting our oppressor than to die slowly of starvation."
Also prominently displayed were quotes from the government's chief negotiator and minister of education, Prof. Janusz Gorski -- a figure of considerable fun for the students because of his allegedly ungrammatical Polish. The minister got off to a bad start early in the talks when he said: p"remember, I have a master's degree -- and you don't."
A student negotiator accused gorski of "arrogance, intellectual inadequacy, and moral emptiness."
One of the remarkable features about the Lodz strike is that it was supported by both the new independent students' union and its old official rival. Several student leaders, including Perlinski, are members of the Communist-dominated union and say they intend to remain in it.
The students did, however, prevent leaders of the official union from taking part in the occupation. "They turned up here, but we told them to go away as they were mostly over 40 and were bureaucrats, not students," said Marzeka Rybicka, a fourth-year English student.
The last big protests in Polish universities werre in 1968, when students demonstrated in support of the Czechoslovak reform movement. Since then, a mood of political apathy has settled over academic life. It was notable that this time the students waited for the workers to make the first move.
Even among the students on strike at Lodz, seven out of 10 still do not belong to any union, either official or unofficial. Most students consider themselves pragmatic and not concerned with ideology.
Rybicka explained this change in young people's attitudes by noting that the parents of the 1968 generation had been involved in the World War II resistance.
"The generation of 1968 was brought up as idealists, and they fought for what they thought was right. Our parents, however, made their careers during the '50s as political activists. We were brought up to believe that all politics is dirty, that political activity is hopeless, and that one should strive for inner freedom," she said.
"That is why our universities were such quiet places in the '70s. But now we are again becoming politically aware. Just to confront such a representative of the ruling class as Minister Gorski is enough to open your eyes. If we want a free university, we have to get involved in politics -- whether we like it or not."