In a move without precedent in the Soviet Bloc, printers throughout Poland occupied their plants today to start a strike designed to prevent the publication of all daily newspapers in the country for the next two days.
All major plants were seized early this morning after the independent trade union movement Solidarity rejected a plea by Warsaw's Communist Party chief Stanislaw Kociolek that the official party daily Trybuna Ludu be exempted from the strike.
Tonight, the government was reported to be trying to break the strike by using armed forces printing facilities here.
In and of itself, the newspaper shutdown seems to be a minor issue in a country with a steadily deteriorating economy and increasing food shortages.
But the union has boldly challenged Communist Party monopoly over one of the basic tools of a socialist state. Such unprecedented action could have serious implications for the Polish party, and the way it handles this latest crisis undoubtedly will be carefully scrutinized by its allies in the Warsaw Pact.
A spokesman for Trybuna Ludu said the daily "will be published as usual," but would not comment on where the papers are going to be printed. A spokesman for another government-controlled newspaper, Zycie Warszawy, said it may come out "in a different format."
The strike action was denounced by Trybuna Ludu in a front-page editorial this morning that called Solidarity's decision a "political action" that would deprive Poles of information in a critical situation.
The Politburo of the Communist Party tonight assailed "extremist circles within Solidarity" for the strike, but stopped short of providing any hints as to how the party intended to cope with the situation. The Politburo merely said that "in the interest of social peace such actions must be tempered."
The statement, reported by the government news agency PAP, was included in an announcement of a new plenum of the Polish party's policy-making Central Committee set for the end of this month. The plenum is scheduled to deal with the question of workers' self-management.
While the printers walked away from their jobs, Warsaw's vegetable and fruit vendors in about a dozen open-air markets refused to sell their wares, in protest against private farmers' high prices.
Solidarity, which called the newspaper strike against what it sees as an increased government campaign to discredit the union, tonight called on journalists, mailers, distributors and other newspaper workers to support the action.
It also appealed to Poles to refrain from buying newspapers for the next two days should these be printed and delivered with the help of the armed forces.
"They will try to break the protest, they may try to use party activists and the military to distribute them, but they still will have to sell them," a Solidarity official said.
A Solidarity official said that printers in Lublin, Lodz, Gdansk, Wroclaw, Poznan, Bialystok, Olstyn, Rzeszow and other cities have joined the protest.
The only exception was Bydgoszcz, an industrial city northwest of Warsaw, where local printers refused to join the protest. However, union officials said workers in the distribution network supported Solidarity and would refuse to handle the newspapers.
At a news conference tonight, Solidarity spokesman Seweryn Jaworski said that between 70 and 90 percent of printers in all other towns supported the union.
He sought to minimize the newest confrontation with the government, which controls all daily newspapers in the country, by saying that the protest was limited and that printing plants would be doing all sorts of job printing in the next two days.
Jaworski, however, warned that new nationwide strikes would be called if the government does not give Solidarity greater access to newspapers, radio and television, including the right to answer charges discrediting the union. Such charges are becoming increasingly frequent in the official media.