In an unprecedented summit, the leaders of Poland's ruling Communist Party, independent trade union federation Solidarity and Roman Catholic Church today considered formation of a broad national front to advise the government in the current economic and political crisis.
The meeting, in a government residence here, was the first such trilateral summit since Solidarity's formation 15 months ago as the sole independent union in the Soviet Bloc. The summit is a measure both of the intractability of the problems and the degree of political pluralism now taken for granted in this ostensibly one-party state that is also overwhelmingly Catholic.
Solidarity leader Lech Walesa drove to Warsaw for the occasion from a meeting of the union's executive National Committee in the Baltic port of Gdansk. He met first with Archbishop Jozef Glemp, the primate of Poland, and then both men went to see the new party leader and premier, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski.
Aides said the three leaders met alone for just under two hours and 20 minutes. An official communique distributed by the Polish news agency PAP said views were exchanged over "ways to overcome the crisis in which the country finds itself as well as possibilities of creating a front of national agreement."
The statement described the proposed front as "a permanent body of dialogue and consultation of political and social forces acting within the constitution of the Polish People's Republic." The reference to the constitution appeared to be an attempt to reassure Poland's Soviet Bloc allies that the party would retain its leading role.
The wording of the communique suggested that the discussion was largely exploratory and no firm conclusions were reached. The idea of creating a broader national consensus, even of forming a government of national salvation, has been canvassed in many quarters in the last few weeks -- but there are still sharp disagreements over the form it should take.
According to PAP, the participants described the meeting as "useful" and promised to hold similar consultations in the future.
In a telephone call to Solidarity leaders in Gdansk, Walesa later reported that Jaruzelski expressed a readiness to start immediate negotiations on all issues. Solidarity has drawn up a list of five main areas for negotiation, including measures to overcome the economic crisis, self-management in industry, the union's access to the mass media, the passage of a new trade union law, and the drafting of democratic election procedures for the national and provincial legislatures.
The sudden onset of negotiations contrasted with the political and industrial tensions that have built up here during weeks of stalemate. Jaruzelski's readiness to meet with both Glemp and Walesa indicated that the new party leader is still intent on resolving the crisis by peaceful means, despite calls by some hard-liners in the party for the imposition of martial law.
The wave of industrial unrest appears to have subsided somewhat since appeals by both the Sejm, or national assembly, and Solidarity's National Committee for an end to wildcat strikes. Today about 12,000 textile workers in the central town of Zyrardow went back to work after a strike lasting 23 days over poor food supplies.
The main obstacle to ending the strike had been a dispute over strike pay. The government agreed to pay only 50 percent of the workers' wages for the period of the strike, but Solidarity said it would make up the remainder and would consider raising the money by organizing "active strikes," a novel form of protest under which workers would remain on the job but distribute their produce themselves.
The main strikes still unresolved are in the southwestern province of Zielona Gora, where 120,000 workers are demanding the dismissal of allegedly incompetent local officials, and the Sosnowiec mine in the southern region of Silesia, where miners were sprayed with a poisonous gas by unknown assailants while attending a Solidarity meeting.
Walesa's participation in the summit was opposed by some radical members of Solidarity's national committee. In an emotional speech, the union leader deflected the criticism by telling delegates that Solidarity had to decide whether or not it was prepared to cooperate with the government.
The presence of Archbishop Glemp was seen as significant in view of Jaruzelski's attempts to persuade more lay Catholics to join the government. The church frequently has played the role of mediator between Solidarity and the authorities.
Walesa had held several bilateral meetings with both Glemp and Jaruzelski, but the three never have met together before.