Solidarity trade union Chairman Lech Walesa today charged Polish authorities with attempting to provoke a confrontation with workers that he said could erupt into something bloodier than the country's 1970 Baltic Coast riots, in which at least two dozen people died.
Speaking to reporters in Gdansk on the eve of a crucial two-day meeting of Solidarity's national commission, the union chief said he was upset by what he termed the government's distortion of remarks he and other union leaders made at a closed-door meeting in Radom last week.
Against the backdrop of renewed union-government tensions in Poland, Walesa declared that Solidarity members would continue to defend "like lions" the freedoms won and codified in their 1980 agreements with the state.
At the same time, Walesa paid tribute to efforts by Poland's primate, Jozef Glemp, to mediate the bitter conflict, describing his own meetings this week with the archbishop as "indispensable." In spite of the tough positions and posturing of both Solidarity and the Communist authorities in recent days, there were hints today as well of possible face-saving measures that would end the current standoff.
The union and the government reverted to confrontational rhetoric following the state's use of force last week against striking cadet firemen and a flareup of impatience and distrust by union militants, who view the slow-moving negotiating process with the government as an entrapment.
A break in the talks, plus angry exchanges this week, have raised the tension level in the country several more notches, encouraging pessimism about the achievement of a national accord that could deal with the disastrous condition of the economy and Poland's social problems.
One of those who had been maneuvering on behalf of the church for the resumption of union-government contacts, Janusz Zablocki, chairman of the Polish Catholic party most closely aligned with the powerful church here, was quoted today by the semiofficial Polish Interpress service as saying, "There are precious few reasons for optimism, though a ray of hope still remains."
Zablocki, who heads the Christian Social Association, also said there was "little probability" of another "big three" meeting of Walesa, Glemp and the Communist Party leader, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, in the near term. The three met together for the first time on Nov. 4, sparking talk of a new period of cooperation among the country's opposing forces. But the optimism was short-lived.
On the most explosive issue dividing Solidarity and the authorities -- a proposed emergency powers bill that would allow the government to curb certain civil rights, including the right to strike -- there was a slight sign today that the government might agree to drop the matter.
An official Polish press agency commentary, discussing upcoming parliamentary business, noted that the expected passage of a new trade union bill would create a new set of circumstances that could conceivably cancel the need for the special extraordinary powers legislation. The new trade union act, drafted in cooperation with Solidarity, contains a provision for a three-month strike ban.
In addition to the special powers and trade union acts, six other disputed areas appeared on the list of demands drawn up by union regional presidents in Radom last week, covering economic reform, political elections and access to the media.
In anticipation of the full 107-member national commission meeting in Gdansk on Friday, Solidarity's executive committee today issued a communique saying the Radom demands had been endorsed by many rank-and-file union members through telegrams to the leadership. The communique predicted that the commission would also endorse them, thus making them the official union position.
But hinting that an attempt might be made to soften some of the demands by adding qualifying language, today's statement said somewhat cryptically that "one needs to describe and define them better, especially how they would be implemented."