The change taking place in Poland is irreversible and it is in the "common interest" that "external intervention" not become an obstacle to the Polish process, Lech Walesa, leader of the independent Polish trade union movement Solidarity, told the annual conference of the International Labor Organization here today.
But he said Solidarity would cooperate with any "rational" government effort to help Poland's ailing economy and he said it had "recommended" to local union branches that wage demands and strikes not be declared without the agreement of the national organization.
Walesa's short speech was greeted by a rare standing ovation from most delegates to the 145-nation conference, as Soviet representatives sat in stony silence.
"I would like, from this international forum, to tell everybody, all peoples of the world, that the Poles are capable of settling their own internal affairs by themselves and among themselves," Walesa said in what was interpreted as a reference to continuing fears of armed intervention by the Soviet bloc. "It is in the common interest that external intervention should not become an obstacle to the process of consolidation now going on in Polish society," he told the crowd in the main assembly hall of Geneva's Palais des Nations.
"Our union was born out of protest," Walesa said. "Using the traditional method of workers' struggle -- demonstrations and strikes -- it contributed in a definitive way to launching a profound transformation of the social and political life of the country. There is no area which has remained unaffected by this process of renewal.
"Even though we are aware this is only the beginning of these changes," he said, "no one in Poland has any doubt as to the fact that there is no way back to the previous methods of ruling the country and governing its economy."
Walesa told the labor delegates that "the principles of social justice, democratic freedoms and independent action that are the guidelines of Solidarity transcend the frontiers between states, blocs or systems. They are the common property of the labor movement."
As he had done repeatedly, Walesa took pains to refute charges by elements in the Polish Communist Party and by Soviet leaders that his union is responsible for Poland's economic crisis.
That current economic difficulties are due to "political errors and the irresponsible economic and social policies of the state leadership over the last years is known to everyone," Walesa contended.
Nevertheless, Solidarity is prepared to cooperate with any "rational program" to ease Poland's serious economic strains, Walesa said. "Sacrifice and self-denial" are required from every Pole, "even though they bear no responsibility for the collapse of the economy," he said.
To this end, "We have also advised all the branches of the Solidarity union that they should not make any new wage demands or launch any new strikes without first consulting the central leadership." Walesa said.
The Polish labor leader had no comment on plans of a Solidarity local in Bydgoszcz to hold a two-hour strike next Thursday, but he left the impression Solidarity's leadership opposes the walkout.
Walesa said Tuesday that he is worried about the lack of discipline at local levels of the Solidarity union. "I would like to see a little more order in the organization before I step down," he admitted.
But the current attitude of moderation should not be interpreted as abandonment of the independent unions' struggle in Poland, Walesa warned today. "We intend to fight so that no one in Poland goes without a job and to defend the vital interests of the poorest sectors of society in town and countryside alike," he said.
Alioune Digne, minister of labor of Senegal and chairman of the ILO conference, told Walesa after his speech that "the size of the crowd here today and the rapt attention given to your speech, and the long and heavy applause which followed it, proves, if there is still need of it, that the whole world follows your efforts with interest."