IT IS AN AWESOME thing to see Polish people continuing to identify with Solidarity, as tens of thousands did in some 20 cities on Sunday. From underground, leaders of the banned movement had vowed to show their strength on the traditional workers' holiday. The government had answered with threats and maneuvers. On the day, Solidarity supporters gathered at mass, the one setting where the government dares not bar their gathering, and then unfurled their banners. When the crowds refused to disband, the police took out tear gas, water hoses and clubs.

What is so impressive to outsiders is not simply the readiness of thousands of Poles to stand up to official power in a communist country. It takes a special kind of courage to be willing to keep at protest in the face of the seductive argument that protest is not only dangerous but counterproductive, that it will draw further repression, while cooperation will be better for everyone all around.

Solidarity is still in the political game. In organization, it is limited to occasional demonstrations and statements, but, incredibly, its underground core survives and its shadow is a major determinant of official policies. The regime, to govern, desperately needs to be regarded as Polish, and is thus kept from acting against Solidarity and its adherents with Soviet-style thoroughness. Its hesitation has been, at least up to now, what allowed Solidarity to haul out its banners on Polish television and the international press to cover the story of Solidarity's continuing struggle and appeal.

Gen. Jaruzelski on Sunday blamed the "chaos" on a "miserable minority." Surely he is in a position to know the real breadth and depth of Solidarity's following. He went on to renew the terms of the basic bargain he has been offering Solidarity's mass constituency. He said that if the people stopped their disturbances he would make it worth their while.

But he is the man in charge in Poland, and the burden is on him, not Solidarity. He should release the political prisoners left over from martial law and widen the political space available to Lech Walesa, who is the true spokesman of the Polish working people--May Day and every day.