Poland's new Communist Party leader, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, asked the legislature today to call on the independent labor union Solidarity to suspend all strikes and threatened to take "extraordinary measures" if the union refused.
Jaruzelski said the move was necessary because Poland is at a critical point, with its economy collapsing and lawlessness and strikes becoming a way of life.
He also announced a shake-up of his Cabinet, dismissing five ministers, including the deputy premier responsible for overseeing economic reform, Stanislaw Mach.
While approximately 250,000 workers remained out on wildcat strikes throughout the country, Solidarity leaders indicated that they, too, wanted to regain control over the industrial unrest. Following a meeting yesterday in Gdansk, the union's presidium appealed for an immediate end to all strikes and called for disciplinary measures against members who acted in defiance of the leadership's instructions.
Jaruzelski, who formally announced that he would retain his other positions of premier and defense minister for the time being, said he had submitted a bill outlining extraordinary measures to protect citizens should the industrial unrest continue. The nature of the measures was not specified, but they are believed to include temporary suspension of the right to strike and the possibility of declaring Solidarity illegal.
Jaruzelski's request for an anti-strike resolution, which the parliament is expected to approve, suggested that the regime is developing a two-stage strategy toward Solidarity. While the first stage seeks to avoid open confrontation and relies on legislative powers of persuasion, the second depends on the government's willingness and ability to back up its rhetoric with force.
The main aim of the strategy appeared to be to win time during which Jaruzelski will seek to gain the support of respected non-Communist figures and thus broaden his political base. As initial steps, he announced plans to establish a nonpartisan council of advisers and the government reshuffle -- which included the appointment of Edward Kowalczyk, head of the Democratic Party, a minority party in the ruling Communist-led coalition, as one of six deputy premiers.
Earlier, the Communist Party Central Committee had said it would be calling on the Sejm (legislature) to approve a temporary ban on strikes. In his speech, however, Jaruzelski indicated that the government would first wait to see Solidarity's reaction to a resolution merely appealing for a suspension of strikes.
"The interests of the socialist state and the peaceful existence of our nation can and must be protected," he said.
The resolution, which is likely to be voted on Saturday, appeared to resemble one passed last April which resulted in a shaky two-month strike-free truce. In its present form, it does not have the force of law -- a crucial point since Solidarity insists that workers cannot be deprived legally of the right to strike.
The problem for both the government and Solidarity is how to settle the existing strikes, which are believed to involve over a quarter of a million workers in half a dozen parts of the country. In a letter to Jaruzelski made public today, Solidarity leader Lech Walesa said that in the face of "near desperation" among the strikers, the government should fulfill their demands without delay.
A major obstacle to the settlement of the strikes, which were touched off by food shortages and alleged mismanagement by local officials, involved the issue of strike pay. The government has turned down a demand for full pay for the period of the strike.
Appealing to all members to stop strikes immediately, Solidarity's presidium said uncoordinated local protests could destroy the union and lose support. "The name Solidarity is beginning to become an empty slogan," it added.
There was no immediate response from strikers to the presidium's appeal. In the central textile town of Zyrardow, a strike over food shortages continued into its 18th day and there was no hint of a breakthrough in general strikes paralyzing the western region of Zielona Gora and the southern region of Tarnobrzeg.
Jaruzelski, outlining his plans for a wider political consensus, said the government would establish a social consultative board composed of independent experts. Under proposed new legislation, the government would be obliged to consult the board, which would act as a channel for public opinion.
The party leader also proposed that the present Communist-dominated National Unity Front, which is responsible for nominating candidates for the Sejm, be replaced by a council of national agreement, including representatives of unions and the church.
The new ministers appointed today include the deputy leader of the pro-regime Catholic Pax group in the Sejm, Zenon Komender, who was appointed minister of internal trade. There are now nine non-Communists in the 42-man Council of Ministers, including two deputy prime ministers.
Western analysts, however, saw the latest ministerial appointments as largely cosmetic, stopping well short of the creation of a coalition government of national unity.