In Bielsko-Biala, cen-ter of Poland's textile industry, a sales agent reports that workers in the clothing factories have taken to knitting ski caps because they lack the cloth to produce larger apparel.
In the Baltic shipyard of Gdansk, a supervisor laments the absence of key parts to complete several massive vessels whose huge hulks lie at the edge of the yard like beached whales.
In a Warsaw shoe repair store, customers are told they must provide their own glue for repairs. The store has run out, they are told, because Poland lacks an essential imported ingredient it needs to produce its own glue.
While a semblance of order has come to the streets of Poland, its national economy remains a scene of chaotic fits and false starts.
Shortages of industrial supplies, chronic before the imposition of martial law in December, have become even more severe as a result of Western economic sanctions and the refusal of Western banks and governments to grant new financial credits to the Warsaw government.
Public patience is being tried by steep rises in food and fuel prices that threaten to exhaust the earnings and savings of many Poles by the spring. Promises by government leaders of major economic reforms continue to be frustrated by the errant behavior of producers and resistance within the government's large and entrenched bureaucracy.
Moreover, Poland's largely independent farmers still refuse to deliver the full amount of grain the authorities contracted to buy, preferring to hoard supplies as a hedge against inflation or to sell on the higher-priced black market. This has raised the possibility of forced food sales or rationing of bread and flour, both of which are being quietly discussed in offical circles. Either move could lead to more social disaster.
The bleakness of Poland's economic plight was underlined in a sermon Friday by the country's Roman Catholic primate, Archbishop Jozef Glemp. The economy, he said, is "breaking apart" and families are becoming poorer as a result of the price increases.
"We cannot spot the exit from this tunnel in which we are going," said Glemp.
One bright spot did appear last week: coal production was reported to have reached 15.4 million tons in January, a jump of 8.8 percent over December. Coal is perhaps the most crucial element in Poland's national economy, providing the bulk of the country's energy requirements. It also serves as one of Poland's major exports and thus a principal source of hard currency.
The government attributed the improvement to martial law, saying militarization of the mines and restoration of the six-day work week had reimposed labor discipline.
But Poland's overall production in January dropped 17.5 percent from December, suggesting authorities were still far from reestablishing a hold on the economy. Under the duress of military rule, Polish workers are reported by union sources to be purposefully slowing down production in some factories.
"The meaning of the figures is still brutally unpleasant," conceded Trybuna Ludu, the main Communist Party daily, in a comment at the end of last week.
Without the independent trade union Solidarity to blame directly, the authorities have fixed on Western economic sanctions as a prime impediment to recovery. Hardly a day goes by that the officially controlled press doesn't carry an article suggesting that the sanctions are hurting the nation, not just the government, and warning that by keeping Poland unstable, the sanctions could lead to more repression.
The denial of new U.S. commodity credits to purchase grain is threatening to wipe out Poland's poultry production, largely dependent on American cornfeed. Closed credit lines also are hindering Poland's purchase of raw materials and industrial components essential to production. The suspension of Polish fishing rights in U.S. waters has meant a projected loss of 170,000 tons of fish, according to official statements here.
Earlier this month, the government announced what looked to be a dramatic restructuring of the Polish economy, involving reduction of imports from the West, expansion of trade and economic cooperation with other Soviet Bloc countries and more emphasis on tapping Poland's own raw material resources.
Agriculture, too, was given top priority, having been starved in the 1970s in favor of lavish, often misguided industrial projects.
So far, however, efforts to prod farm sales by offering farmers more for their produce have yielded disappointing results. About one-third of the grain the authorities had intended to purchase domestically has not been forthcoming.
Poland has no shortage of minerals. But the extensive new mining operations that authorities say they are planning requires time that Poland's faltering economy may not have.
Within the next month or two, many Poles are expected to feel the full impact of the enormous price increases that went into effect Feb. 1. Up to now, the blow has been somewhat cushioned by a relatively small increase in pay along with an extra month's salary awarded to all workers. But the ready cash available to many households is reported by Polish economists to be dwindling fast.
Officials said the price hikes were to be a first step in a comprehensive program of economic reforms. They justified the increases on grounds that the true value of goods had to be reflected on the market.
The price move also was intended to demonstrate to Western creditors that Poland intended to do something about its economy.
While many Poles do not dispute the need for the increases, the size of the jumps--topping 400 percent in a number of cases--has taxed public tolerance. Poland's standard of living had already dropped to 1974 levels at the end of last year as a result of a three-year decline in national income. Now the standard appears to be falling even more rapidly.
"It is always hard to accept a drop in living standards, especially given the attitude of typical Polish families, which is: Why should I and my family pay such a high price for this since somebody (read authorities) brought the country to the crisis and to the brink of a precipice," wrote Zygmunt Szeliga, an economic expert and deputy editor of the weekly Polityka, which started publishing again last week.
In a lengthy article, Szeliga expressed serious doubts about whether the increases will contribute to a rational pricing structure. As government officials themselves concede, the commitment by Polish leader Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski to follow through on economic reform is regarded skeptically even among government administrators.
Zdzislaw Sadowski, the government's deputy chief for economic reform, told a Polish interviewer last week that many administrators were still taking a passive wait-and-see attitude toward the whole process.
Because of the weak state of the economy, 14 special programs have been set up to give priority to the production of certain essential goods, including food, medicine, clothing, fuels and raw materials. But Sadowski said these programs have tended to be viewed as merely "new shields" for Poland's old, bloated economic bureaucracy.,
The government also found that many producers were abusing the freedom to set their own prices, which was granted last month. This month, authorities have clamped new controls on the pricing of consumer goods.
Szeliga told a story of the Walter typewriter factory in Radom, Poland's sole producer of typewriters.
"The factory's products are of medium (or perhaps worse than that) quality," he wrote. "In fact, they are primitive, known for almost 100 years. They have always been expensive."
But under the new conditions, Szeliga said, the factory raised its prices to a "stupendous" level.
Asked what would happen if the market did not accept the new prices, the factory manager is quoted as saying he had no reason to worry because he could always just drop the typewriters from his production program, leaving Poland without new machines.
Szeliga said monopoly situations such as this are certain to frustrate attempts at reform.
For all the economic pessimism, Poland's 36 million people are far from starvation. Doctors have noticed some deterioration of health, particularly of children, and babyfood especially is in short supply. But many Poles are still eating better than other East Europeans, thanks in part to a massive inflow of emergency food aid from the West, delivered through Red Cross and church channels.