Leaders of Poland's independent Solidarity trade union federation today laid plans for a general strike if the Communist Party presses ahead to provide the government with new emergency powers.
Addressing workers in Radom, Solidarity leader Lech Walesa also questioned the sincerity of the Communist authorities in offering to create a new national consensus. He said that talks with the government, which have been under way for much of the last month, had proved virtually fruitless.
Solidarity's warning of a general strike -- the union's ultimate weapon -- came the day after troops and riot police stormed a training school for fire fighters in Warsaw and ended an eight-day occupation strike. It appeared to mark the start of a new and potentially dangerous trial of wills between the two sides.
The Solidarity leadership said it will ask its national council to approve a two-stage response to moves by the party to push a tough law-and-order bill through parliament. The first stage would be a warning strike if the government passes the new legislation, and the second would be an open-ended strike if the new powers actually are used.
In a communique issued at the end of their meeting in Radom, the focal point of a nationwide protest by about 100,000 students, the union leadership said:
"If there are bans on gathering or a ban on strikes, the union will proclaim a 24-hour national protest strike. If the government uses these extraordinary measures, all chapters and all work forces should immediately stage a general, unlimited strike."
The resolution is to be put to a meeting of the union's decision-making national commission next week.
Despite the new tension, political analysts noted that both sides still have room for maneuver before any final showdown. No date has been set for the next session of parliament, at which the emergency powers legislation and a draft trade union bill are likely to be considered.
The legislation has never been spelled out, but is understood to include suspension of the right to strike, a ban on other than religious gatherings and limits on the freedom of movement.
Solidarity has prepared for a general strike several times in the past, but such a move has always been avoided at the last moment. It is widely assumed that a general strike or martial law would mean an all-out confrontation, and possibly civil war or Soviet intervention.
Walesa virtually dissociated Solidarity from attempts by the party leadership to draw up what has been described as "a front of national agreement." The idea was launched by the prime minister, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, and later endorsed by Walesa and Poland's Roman Catholic primate, Archbishop Jozef Glemp, at an unprecedented meeting of the three Nov. 4.
But despite long negotiations since then, the proposal has failed to take shape in the form of new power-sharing institutions. Solidarity activists suspect a plot by the country's leadership to bring the union into "coresponsibility" for Poland's economic crisis without making any real concessions on such issues as economic reform, election rules and access to the mass media.
Solidarity's suspicions were voiced by Walesa in Radom. He said, "This agreement cannot take place because there is no one yet to agree with. The partner is cheating."
Walesa seemed anxious to switch attention away from the seizure of the fire-fighters' training school to the more general issue of the party's commitment to reforms.
Government officials insist they are committed to the idea of national reconciliation but are combining it with a policy of firmness toward "the enemies of socialism." In a speech yesterday, the party's propaganda chief, Stefan Olszowski, said the regime was ready to pick up the challenge posed by "Solidarity extremists," whom he accused of attempting to seize power.