Poland's communist authorities and the independent Solidarity trade union federation held their first negotiations for nearly two months today, and union officials later said the government had agreed to a temporary freeze on all food prices.
The talks, which centered on economic issues, got under way on the eve of an important meeting of the Communist Party's policy-making Central Committee to debate strategy toward Solidarity. They coincided with new calls from Polish intellectuals for the creation of a broad-based government of technocrats to tackle the country's crisis.
Following the first round of talks, Solidarity's chief negotiator, Gregorz Palka, told reporters that the government side had agreed to freeze food prices until questions of consultation and compensation could be resolved. The union had threatened a nationwide warning strike next week unless agreement was reached on a price freeze and control over food distribution.
Attitudes also had been hardening among party activists, with some demanding a shake-up in the ruling Politburo and the adoption of more hard-line policies.
An indication of the direction of the political wind was provided by the announcement today that the Communist Party had expelled from its membership one of Solidarity's top officials, Bogdan Lis. An organizer of the August 1980 strikes in Gdansk, he was the only party member elected to Solidarity's national leadership during the union's congress earlier this month.
The party in Gdansk said the action had been taken because Lis had disagreed publicly with official policy. His expulsion followed calls by hard-liners for the 1 million party members who also belong to Solidarity to decide finally where their loyalties lie.
Lis, who had been a party member since 1975, was Solidarity's chief strategist for foreign affairs. In a recent speech, he called for cuts in arms expenditure by Poland and a transfer of the savings to food production.
The latest appeal for a government of experts came from a respected group of intellectuals. The group, known by the acronym DIP for the Polish words "experience and the future," is affiliated neither with the party nor with Solidarity and has produced several detailed studies of the country's economic and political problems. The group said coalition government was the only choice for the communist leadership if it wished to regain the trust of society and of Poland's Western creditors and its Soviet Bloc allies.
Variations on the theme of coalition government have been suggested by many influential Poles, including some Communist Party leaders and Solidarity activists. But the idea has also run into strong opposition on both sides, and no formula has emerged yet that is likely to be acceptable to the country's many interest groups.
At one end of the political spectrum, communist officials have offered to broaden the Front of National Unity -- the Communist Party-dominated mass organization grouping several political parties, official unions and the Socialist Youth Movement. Solidarity's view is that the front is hopelessly compromised and therefore an impossible basis for a new consensus.
At today's talks, Palka of Solidarity suggested instead the establishment of a socio-economic council that would operate in tandem with the government and be "co-responsible" for devising anticrisis measures. Talking to journalists before the start of the negotiations, Palka said both Solidarity and Communist Party representatives should sit on the council.
Several individual Solidarity branches already have begun staging protest of price rises and inadequate supplies despite an appeal for restraint by the union leadership. Four- to six-hour warning strikes were held in dozens of factories in provincial towns today, and other Solidarity regions called "strike alerts" pressure the authorities.
The government team at today's talks was headed by the finance minister, Marijan Krzak, who was evicted from the Solidarity congress for refusing to rescind increases in cigarette prices. The dispute caused much bitterness among rank-and-file Solidarity members and led to passage of a resolution by the congress demanding a general price freeze.
The meeting, held at government headquarters in Warsaw, represented the first direct bargaining session between the two sides since earlier negotiations foundered at the end of August over the union's demands for greater access to the officially controlled news media. The collapse of the talks resulted in Solidarity's barring coverage of the congress by state radio and television.