1970, 1976, 1980…. History repeats itself in Poland–although each time with a different twist. In the current confrontation, there are elements of continuity and change–and also a message for Mikhail Gorbachev.

The continuity lies in the capacity of the Polish workers to rise above their immediate interests. This time the main actors have been the workers of Nowa Huta, the new steel town next to Krakow, the old capital. The striking steelworkers of Nowa Huta did not merely ask for more pay. They demanded the doubling of compensation, to match higher prices, for all those with less muscle, such as the old-age pensioners.

But the mood is less exhilarating than it was in Gdansk eight years ago. The workers know that higher wages in themselves mean little, that economic reform is indispensable and that nothing should be done to disturb the winds of change blowing from Moscow. This is why the spokesmen for Solidarity have been asking the authorities to negotiate only with the autonomous labor movement. Yet that is what Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, for all the progress heh as made since the military coup, has thus far refused to do. Heedless of bankruptcy, the government is busily granting big wage increases to strikers all over the country. As the shipwrights of Gdansk joined the steelworkers of Nowa Huta, however, it was not certain whether this gamble would pay off.

The other crucial change is the absence of a bogyman in Moscow. Gorbachev, despite his sympathy for Jaruzelski, must be in favor of compromise. He is also aware that without the active participation of the workers, he too has no chance of breaking the passive resistance of the bureaucracy. Sending policemen against strikers, as Jaruzelski did in Nowa Huta on May 5, will not invalidate the Polish message–there can be no perestroika without the proletariat.