A former strike leader who smuggled himself back into Poland after eight years in exile has become a source of considerable embarrassment to both the communist authorities and the independent Solidarity trade union.

When the Warski Shipyard in Szczecin struck in December 1970 and January 1971, Edmund Baluka performed much the same role as Lech Walesa did in Gdansk last year. He led the strike committee, conducted negotiations with the government and became a symbol of the workers' protest before being fired and fleeing the country.

The problem his return poses to Solidarity and was underlined today by the official Communist Party newspaper Trybuna Ludu, which reminded the union of a provisions in its draft program: "Nobody should be above the law." The paper said that applied to Baluka and Solidarity as well.

Many Poles, however, regard the law as a political weapon in the hands of the country's rulers. In a nation without independent legal institutions respected by all sides, often the only way of settling disputes is through a trial of strength.

Questioned about Baluka, Walesa said: "We have laws which are not good and are used against us. We will improve them, but in the meantime we have to obey those we have."

While praising Baluka as a "great fighter," Walesa described the manner of his return as "a dirty trick."

"I have a personal complaint," Walesa said. "He should have realized that the situation here is not stable yet and asked us beforehand if he should return. Instead he suddenly throws off a wig and high heels and says 'Here I am, Edmund Baluka.' This could involve us in a confrontation."

After leading the Szczecin strike, Baluka became president of the official trade union at the yard and later president of the regional branch of the metalworkers' union. This brief period of official tolerance ended in November 1972 when he was fired from the union and the shipyard for alleged "hooliganism."

As the political climate became more repressive, Baluka took a job as a sailor and jumped ship in the Canary Islands. Since then, he has lived in Western Europe, frequently attacking the Polish regime. It was through him that a complete transcript of the Szczecin negotiations with the then Communist Party leader, Edward Gierek, reached the West.

Like a forgotten ghost from the past, Baluka reappeared in Poland six days ago.He said he had entered the country under an assumed name with a forged French passport and visa. He went to the Szczecin shipyard, asking for his old job back and appealing for protection from Solidarity.

The local Solidarity branch said Baluka, as a Polish citizen, had full rights to employment and freedom of movement about Poland. It promised to defend him in the event of legal action by the authorities, saying that his arrest would be a violation of the Gdansk agreement.

Solidarity's national leaders, however, seem to have been caught off balance by Baluka's reemergence. While they may feel bound to support him since his activities helped pave the way for last August's successful revolt, they are anxious not to upset the fragile truce with the government.

Both government and Solidarity leaders are attempting to defuse the issue. The prosecutor has said Baluka will not be arrested if he agrees to questioning. Walesa has made clear that he believes the prosecutor has a right to investigate the case.

The compromise is a measure of how Poland has changed since Baluka led the strike 10 years ago.