Once again Poland is seeking to break out of the vicious cycle of political tension and industrial unrest that has brought it to the brink of national disaster.
For the second time in two months, the Communist authorities are trying to gain much-needed breathing space by declaring a moratorium on strikes. In return, they have promised the independent Solidarity trade union federation a speedup of political and economic reform.
Comparison of the two strike moratoriums illustrates how attitudes have changed since Gen Wojciech Jaruzelski was appointed premier Feb. 11. It also reflects the general's increasing frustration at not being able to carry out his 10-point program for leading the country out of its crisis.
On taking office, Jaruzelski's first act was to "appeal" for 90 strike-free days in which to begin to reorganize Poland's process of government and heavily indebted economy. He made the appeal during a speech in the legislative assembly backed up by a massive propaganda campaign in the official media. Solidarity leaders gave their qualified approval.
After a period of increasing strain, the strike truce collapsed in mid-March after an incident in the northern town of Bydgoszcz in which several Solidarity activists were severely beaten by plainclothes policemen.
This time, Jaruzelski has persuaded the assembly to pass a resolution calling for a halt to strikes for two months. He has threatened to resign if the accord is not respected.
The assembly's resolution caused some confusion when it was announced last night since it was unclear whether it was backed up by the force of law. The distinction is crucial. If strikes are illegal, then the government presumably would be obliged to use all statutory powers including calling out the Army to prevent their taking place.
This in turn could bring a major confrontation with Solidarity.
If, on the other hand, the resolution is only an appeal, then it is difficult to see why it should have more weight than the last one.
The wording of the resolution is ambiguous enough to leave room for maneuver by both the government and the union. It says that to overcome the crisis, it is "essential" to suspend strikes and the threat of strikes for two months. Unlike Jaruzelski's original appeal, the resolution is backed up by the authority of the assembly, Poland's highest state body.
While few Poles regard the present assembly as democratically elected, they do respect it as an institution with deep historical traditions. It is also trying to reassert its power and independence.
So what have both sides learned since February?
For all the bravado, there is a growing sense among responsible Poles that they have been living dangerously close to the brink and must pull back if a Soviet invasion is to be avoided.
This strengthens what has been called the "front of reason and common sense" -- an informal coalition that includes the Roman Catholic Church, moderates in Solidarity led by Lech Walesa, and reformers in the Communist Party and government.
Asked what the government had learned as a result of the Bydgoszcz incident, a senior Polish official remarked: "The main lesson is that if you can't control the consequences of an action -- in this case ordering the police to evict Solidarity activists from a local council meeting -- then you don't take that action."
The lesson that ordinary Communist Party members drew from Bydgoszcz was that it was necessary to push harder for reforms. Their attitude was summed up by a shipyard worker at a meeting in Gdansk attended by the party leader, Stanislaw Kania. The worker reminded Kania of a slogan coined by his predecessor, Edward Gierek, 10 years before: "Will you help me?"
"In this same place we answered, 'Yes, we will help you.' But now we shipyard workers ask the first secretary, 'Will you help us, Comrade Kania, to accomplish a socialist renewal in the country or do we have to do it ourselves?'"
The remark drew a standing ovation and was printed on the front page of the Communuist Party newspaper Trybuna Ludu.
For Lech Walesa, the lesson of Bydgoszcz seems to be that it is possible to push the government too far. He has repeated that Solidarity could destroy itself through strikes and that it is necessary to look for other ways of forcing the authorities to live up to the agreements signed last year.