The Lenin Shipyard, a hotbed of labor activism where strikes eight years ago gave rise to the Solidarity trade union movement, will be closed Dec. 1 because it is losing money, the government said Monday.
Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, an electrician at the shipyard, said workers were ready to take over the business and run it profitably. The shipyard was closed Monday because of a holiday and is to reopen Wednesday.Walesa called the decision a "personal provocation of Prime Minister (Mieczyslaw F.) Rakowski against the birthplace of Solidarity."
The shipyard is the first big industrial enterprise to be singled out for closure by the government of Rakowski, who promised to aggressively restructure Polish industry.
Rakowski was a firm supporter of the Dec. 13, 1981, martial law crackdown that crushed Solidarity, the Soviet bloc's first free trade union. He was named prime minister Sept. 27 to replace Zbigniew Messner, who was criticized as ineffectual in reforming the inefficient and debt-ridden economy.
Rakowski said the move "has nothing to do with Solidarity." In a radio interview with the British Broadcasting Corp., he said, "If someone wants to make the Polish economy more healthy, he has to start with very strong steps."
Walesa said in a statement released by an aide, "Solidarity will defend the enterprise which is - for the union and for the whole nation - a symbol of the struggle for a new and better Poland."
The government's move comes as it bickers with Solidarity over proposed talks on social and economic reforms, including legalization of Solidarity.
After Walesa persuaded workers in August to end a wave of nationwide strikes, authorities said they would sit down with the opposition to discuss grievances. But officials object to Solidarity's choice of negotiators.
The official news agency PAP said Rakowski approved the decision to close the shipyard Saturday. It referred to a speech he made Oct. 13 when he presented his government to the Parliament.
PAP said the announcement of the closure "is not a surprise for public opinion or for the work force of the Lenin shipyard. The possibility of liquidating this shipyard has been discussed in public for a long time."
The shipyard, scene of strikes in May and August, has for two decades been a center of union activity but has been in decline for years.
It was scheduled to build 11 ships this year, primarily for the Soviet Union, which as an ally is afforded very favorable purchase terms. In the late 1970s, it produced a high of 27 ships a year and had more than 15,000 employees.
One newspaper described it as a "a giant on partly rotten legs."
But the shipyard's director of foreign trade, Ireneusz Kubiczek, said in July that the business was not necessarily unprofitable and its main problem was a lack of work force to handle all the potential contracts.
In August 1980, a strike at the Lenin Shipyard gave rise to Solidarity. Solidarity's membership grew to 10 million before it was banned in 1982.