MOSCOW — Prime Minister Valentin S. Pavlov called Monday for "old-style coercion" to impose order on the collapsing Soviet economy and indicated that the government intends to crack down hard on strikers and disobedient managers in the coming phase of its economic reforms.
Pavlov, presenting the Soviet government's latest "anti-crisis" program Monday to the national legislature, argued that to get through the tough times ahead, with production and national income plummeting, "what we need is order and discipline."
The Soviet economy, already disintegrating at an alarming rate amid tortuous efforts at reform, has been rocked further in the last two months by a coal miners' strike that has crippled the metallurgy industry.
Strikers are also blocking railroads in the southern republic of Georgia. Dockworkers in the Lithuanian port of Klaipeda and about 3,000 Siberian gold miners stayed off the job Monday. The formerly docile republic of Byelorussia has erupted in repeated walkouts, and Russian Federation workers plan a one-hour warning strike on Friday to protest price increases.
Pavlov said that defiant factory managers who have broken their contracts this year are also destroying the economy. He estimated that only 55% of business contracts have been honored in the first part of this year despite agreements to maintain longstanding economic ties.
In those cases, "I think we should just apply our power," he said. "Apply the old-style coercion."
Asked at a midday news conference about the government's plans to stop the wave of strikes, the heavy-set, brush-cut Pavlov smiled and said, "We know what to do, but we want to do it legally." His plan proposes a ban on politically motivated walkouts.
Pavlov also suggested introducing a state of emergency in the most troubled and vital sectors of the economy, including energy and transportation, and he would hold workers and managers who refuse to obey government commands "economically and criminally responsible."
The prime minister disclosed that there have been attacks recently on Soviet power plants, although he refused to provide details, and he asserted that many coal miners want to go back to work but are being blocked by striking colleagues.
Soldiers or police "cannot make anyone work," he said. "But by applying force you can give people the possibility to work."
Pavlov acknowledged that critics claim his government is "trying to stifle democracy," but he declaimed vehemently, to loud applause from deputies, "Democracy without discipline does not exist in nature."
President Mikhail S. Gorbachev looked on silently as Pavlov presented the plan. He told reporters later: "There are a lot of positive things in this program. It is realistic and concrete."
Gorbachev has taken to the podium himself to defend his economic plans in the past, but he appeared Monday to be saving his ammunition for later in the week--perhaps waiting for the outcome of Wednesday's Communist Party plenum, at which his party leadership is expected to face serious challenges.
Gorbachev said that his party comrades had seriously questioned the Pavlov plan's elements of radical reform.
"Comrades have made comments like, 'Isn't it too much of a turn toward liberalization of the economy, toward capitalization?' And, 'What will the consequences be?' " he said.
But lawmakers at the Supreme Soviet offered only mild criticism of the Pavlov plan as discussion began on Monday, in sharp contrast to the virulent objections that past government plans have evoked.
One deputy, Vladimir Karyagin from Tadzhikistan, complained that it makes no sense for Pavlov, who, as the former finance minister "played one of the first violins" in the Cabinet that got the country into its current troubles, to pretend now to the role of national savior.
"The country is not only at the edge of an abyss but already hanging above it," Karyagin said.
But the Pavlov plan, which was discussed at length last week in legislative committees, appeared likely to pass easily in the Supreme Soviet.
Rafik Nishanov, chairman of one of the legislature's two chambers, said he believes deputies realize that there is simply no time to quibble over details.
"There is such a situation of economic, social and political crisis in the country that there's no time for additional discussion," he said. "This is a tough program--it will hit workers' pockets even harder--but for the sake of the future it must be supported."
The Pavlov program provides for one-third of small stores and businesses to be privatized--sold by the government to individual owners--by the end of this year, and two-thirds by the end of 1992. It would free prices from state control by the end of 1992 and open the country to extensive foreign investment.
Pavlov has promised that if all goes well and people work hard, food supplies could be regularized and prices on their way down by October.