Polish trade union leader Lech Walesa today urged his supporters to end the drive for more concessions from the government and to work instead at consolidating the gains already made.
"I think that any attempts to sign further agreements should be given up," Walesa said in an interview with a Roman Catholic newspaper. "We should stick to those already signed and consider how best to benefit from them."
Walesa's remarks amounted to a call for a change of tactics by Solidarity following the last-minute agreement with the government last week that narrowly avoided a general strike.
The interview also coincided with the end of Warsaw Pact maneuvers in Poland and a speech by Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev, which was interpreted here as giving the Poles another chance to resolve their nine-month labor crisis for themselves.
Calling on activists in the independent Solidarity trade union federation "not to destroy what we have already achieved," Walesa added: "Since we are on the edge of a precipice we must not take risks. Much can be attained gradually, step by step."
It is a remarkable fact that the three main actors in the Polish drama -- Walesa; the Communist Party leader, Stanislaw Kania; and the head of the Catholic Church, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski -- are now using phrases that are virtually interchangeable. They all recognize the precariousness of the country's situation and the need for reform, but also the importance of proceeding gradually.
Within Poland, the last week has seen a strengthening of this "coalition of moderates" from all sides. At the same time, political activity has been more or less suspended pending the outcome of the Czechoslovak Communist Party congress in Prague.
In his interview with Slowo Powszechne, Walesa said Solidarity should give up attempts to negotiate fresh social agreements with the government, concentrating instead on implementing those that have already been signed. He suggested summoning deputies of the Polish parliament to factory meetings and insisting that they take up the workers' complaints.
Walesa's emphasis on lobbying parliament is significant in view of the attempts now being made to increase the powers of this previously rubberstamp body. A parliamentary commission has been entrusted with the task of mediating between the government and Solidarity on the issue of an independent farmers' union and political prisoners.
Noting that some Solidarity activists were reluctant to give up the tactics of "confrontation and struggle, Walesa predicted that they would be defeated during a nationwide election campaign for union offices.
"These [activists] are not the ones we need," he said. "In any case, such a struggle exhausts us mentally and physically. The queues become longer and thus we hurt ourselves. We must look for other methods to solve our problems."
The signs so far are that Walesa is winning his internal struggle with the militants in Solidarity. Last week, union delegates at the Lenin shipyard voted to withdraw support from their representative on the national committee, Anna Walentynowicz, because of her radical views.
They took the decision despite Walentynowicz's personal popularity and her symbolic role as the crane operator whose dismissal triggered the shipyard strike in August.
It is indicative that the Lenin shipyard branch of Solidarity is much more moderate in outlook than some other factory branches still engaged in day-to-day conflicts with the local authorities. This suggests that the best method open to the government for defusing union militancy is to treat Solidarity as a partner rather than as an opponent.
While this has been understood by many Polish leaders, including Kania, it has proved difficult for them to convince the Soviets. The danger is that, under immense pressure from outside, the Polish authorities will find themselves in a position where they have to crack down on Solidarity.
Despite the desire of both Walesa and Kania to avoid conflicts, there are still several issues that could blow up into a new confrontation. One is an unsettled dispute about whether civilian employes of the interior and defense ministries have a right to form a union.
A second dangerous area is the continuing stalemate over the independent farmers' union. The Polish government has shown signs that it would like to reach a compromise on the issue, but it is not known whether this will be acceptable to Moscow.
Meanwhile, one of the farmers' demands has been met by raising the prices paid to producers of food. The purchase price from farmers for a liter of milk (1.05 quarts), for example, has been nearly doubled to about 50 cents, while the price to the consumer remains at about 10 cents.
This of course means huge increases in food subsidies, which now run at the incredible figure of around $10 billion a year -- compared to around $6.6 billion previously. This represents the largest chunk of the state budget.