The setting seemed ideal for government propaganda: a once-crippled television factory that has flourished with Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski's reforms of the Polish economy.
Yet when official parliamentary candidates staged a "consultation meeting" at the suburban plant of Unitra-Polkolor last month, the reaction from workers was angry and blunt.
Using market-oriented management, this sprawling complex of 8,000 workers and imported western technology has changed from a disastrous white elephant to a model of efficiency, high wages and profit. But rather than encouraging the startling turnaround, Polkolor's workers have charged that Jaruzelski's ministers are holding it back.
"It turned out we worked too well," Adam Dobries, the deputy chairman of the Workers' Self-Management Council, told the official visitors. "The authorities could not cope with a factory asking for its rights. The ministry is creating obstacles and I think this is the beginning of the reform's breakup."
The stormy meeting did not discourage the official press from stressing Polkolor's success story. But the workers' complaints signaled how even the model factories of Poland's widely watched economic reform have become mired in complications and controversy after nearly four years of following the program.
The nominally sweeping reforms, introduced amid a disastrous economic slump in 1982, were meant to stabilize Poland's chaotic consumer markets and revitalize industry by allowing factory managers and workers, rather than central planners, to make key decisions. Free-market mechanisms were planned, tying prices to real costs, wages to productivity and production to the actual demand for goods.
Yet while some firms have prospered under the changes, the program as a whole has failed to yield hoped-for results. After two years of moderate recovery, Polish industry and trade is once again lagging behind targets this year, and shortages persist as authorities have failed to establish a realistic balance between wages and prices.
"There seem to be clear signs of a slowdown in the dynamics of reforming the economy," said a report approved by the Polish parliament and published last month. "The positive effects of the reform may soon turn out weaker and weaker."
The case of the Polkolor factory offers a insight into what has happened in the thousands of individual enterprises that determined this sagging performance. It is a story of how new incentives and autonomous management produced a dramatic economic turnaround -- and how the side effects of that success created thorny new problems.
Now, Polkolor's workers and managers believe that the old system of central control is gradually reasserting itself.
"A lot of people are having doubts at the top of the reform," said Krysztof Ostrowski, chairman of the Workers' Self-Management Council, "so it doesn't matter that we're a good factory that has done well."
In one sense, the very nature of the workers' complaints is a measure of the reform's benefits: five years ago, even the most optimistic of Polish planners might not have imagined that Polkolor's predicaments could stem from success. Then, the trim, whitewashed complex in the suburb of Piaseczno was a national symbol of waste and failure.
About $48 million had been borrowed in the 1970s to build Polkolor and buy its technology from RCA and Corning Glass. But central planners then failed to line up domestic markets or supplies for such an enterprise, and imported parts soon became too costly as Poland ran out of dollars. As a result, Polkolor lost 1 billion zloty -- about $6.5 million -- in 1981 and delivered only a fraction of its expected production.
Then, following the reform in 1982, its fortunes suddenly began to revive. The new system gave Polkolor's managers unprecedented freedom to decide on investment and sales strategy, and allowed them to replace central guidelines for wages with a new system that linked salaries to the quality of workers' performance.
The result was a series of enterprising initiatives that company officials say would have been inconceivable under the old system. First, Polkolor arranged a hard-currency loan from a Hungarian firm, then used the money to modernize its outdated television tube.
When local suppliers were unable to deliver parts, Polkolor began making them itself. When orders from the state television factory for tubes fell short, Polkolor began building its own color televisions and selling them at its own shop.
Meanwhile, workers were told that raises would depend on increased productivity and that bonuses were available for high performance. "People know that if they work well, profits will be good, exports will be good and they will end up making good money," Leon Wojtkowich, Polkolor's employment manager, said.
By 1984, Polkolor had increased its production to 303,000 color tubes and was exporting more than half of its production. Its profits had soared to 1 billion zlotys.
This year, Wojtkowich said, Polkolor expects to make 2 billion zlotys -- about $13 million -- while producing 500,000 color tubes.
Workers at first directly benefited from the increasing productivity. Wages rose 20 percent in each of the last two years.
But this link between wages and productivity has spawned problems. Older electronics firms have been unable to increase productivity as quickly as Polkolor, so their employes' wages have not risen as quickly.
The response in the electronics industry has been a return to stronger centralized control by the governing Steel and Industry Ministry.
While weak firms have been allowed to write off their debts, ministry officials recently curtailed further wage increases at Polkolor in a way that makes it likely that wage rises this year will fall short of inflation, and workers with higher productivity will lose, not gain.
Meanwhile, the government is pressing a plan to require more than 100 electronics factories to consolidate under a central management. Polkolor's directors could not control decisions on new investments, Wojtkowich said, and the firm's healthy dollar earnings might then be used for ailing factories, preventing modernization and hurting Polkolor's hard-won place in foreign markets.
Within months, Wojtkowich fears, Polkolor could be returned to its pre-1982 status, unable to make its own decisions or offer its workers financial incentives.
"We know from the experience of the past that when there are more levels above you, you have less power and less ability to respond to new conditions," Wojtkowich said. "The reform was meant to go in the other direction."