The strikes spreading across Poland create a dilemma for both Warsaw and Moscow.
Already more widespread, stubborn, and hostile than the short-lived work stoppages of last May, the current strikes reflect much pent-up anger and frustration on the part of the Poles and confront communist leaders with a no-win situation.They can't crack down on the strikers without further alienating workers whose goodwill is essential to increasing Poland's productivity, making a mockery of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's new openness and economic reforms, and risking the re-imposition of sanctions by the West.
At the same time, the communists can't accede to demands for official recognition of the outlawed Solidarity union without bowing to what amounts to a challenge to the supreme power of the communist party in Poland.
Meanwhile, Solidarity seems to have learned something from last May's strikes, which involved only economic demands - a situation that let the government buy off some strikers and isolate others. Now the Poles have coupled the demand for higher wages with calls for an end to the 1981 edict that outlawed Solidarity, whose leaders still are considered heroes not just by Poles but by the Free World.
For its part, the government in Warsaw also should have learned a lesson - namely, that it cannot solve Poland's economic problems with economic reforms imposed from the top down without broad public support.
As it is now, Poland is beset with 60 percent inflation and $39 billion in foreign debt. In short, it is a poor country that cannot pay its bills. Though the military dictatorship has promised economic reforms based on decentralized decision-making and great input from the rank-and-file, about all it has delivered so far is more impoverishment for more workers.
The situation seems unlikely to change until Warsaw learns the art of compromise - which in this case involves at least a tacit admission that communism is still much better at creating shortages than products.