It has been almost three decades since the Solidarity movement in Poland gave repressed peoples all over the Soviet Union the hope that they would be free. It’s such a milestone in this country that 27 years later it continues to be celebrated as the beginning of the end of the Communist yoke.
Each year dignitaries and common folk alike descend on the cities of Gdansk and Szczecin to commemorate the movement. Last week was no exception. President Lech Kaczynski was the ranking dignitary this time, Polish Radio reported. On August 31, 1980, after shipyard workers had staged on 11-day strike, the Communist government agreed to recognize Solidarity as a trade union and meet 20 other workers’ demands.
Lech Walesa, the legendary leader of Solidarity, signed the agreement on behalf of the workers.With the stroke of a pen, Solidarity became the first independent union in the Eastern bloc. People across the Soviet Union took notice that you could achieve a measure of freedom if you were brave and determined enough.Polish Radio noted that political movements today are quick to embrace the legacy of the Solidarity movement.
“Post-Solidarity parties that emerged after the collapse of communism try to explore and use this moment in building their own identity, because it is portrayed as a moment of emerging freedom and national unity for the progress of the country,” said Adam Burakowski, a historian at the Polish Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Political Studies in Warsaw.In 2005 the European Parliament recognized Solidarity’s legacy by declaring August 31 a Day of Freedom.The Solidarity movement began on August 14, 1980, when workers in the Gdansk Shipyard went on strike.
They demanded better pay, a monument to the 42 shipyard workers killed during a revolt in 1970 and reinstatement of their leaders, Walesa and Anna Walentynowicz, whom the government had fired for their activism.Worker Jerzy Borowczak recalled that he arrived at the shipyard at 4:15 a.m. on August 14 to put up banners announcing a strike.
Then he prepared 500 strike leaflets.”I gave a leaflet to every single person entering the shipyard, saying: ?Take it and read it. The whole shipyard is on strike today.’ About 30 of us gathered and off we went.” Two of the 30 workers at the front of the procession carried a banner. “People emerged from all over the place to see what was going on,” Borowczak said. “We shouted: ?Turn the machines off and join us.'”So many obliged that soon the crowd grew to more than 1,000. In fact, it “grew so dense that we could no longer see the end of the procession,” Borowczak said. “At that time we were already sure that we would succeed.”Workers emerged from the insides of the ships they were building. Those noticing the commotion from high up on gangways would descend. “Our group grew minute by minute,” Borowczak said.”We climbed onto an excavator, which was immediately surrounded by a crowd of people. We said this: ?We must appoint a strike committee. We need trusted people who are respected in their work units.
Let them contact us.’ At that point the shipyard director and his entourage turned up. “We invited him onto the excavator,” Borowczak said. In fact, “we helped him climb”But ” when the director started to speak, we suddenly saw Lech Walesa,” who asked him “in an ominous whisper: ?Do you remember me? I worked in the shipyard for 10 years, and I feel that I still belong here, because the crew trusts me. I have been jobless for the past four years.'” Then Walesa told the director: “We are going to stage a sit-in strike.”The strike spread to other shipyards, ports and the public transit system in the metro area, which consisted of the cities of the Baltic Coast cities of Gdansk, Gdynia and Sopot.To try to hamper the mushrooming union movement, the authorities cut off telephone service between the coast and the rest of Poland.
Two days later, on August 16, the Gdansk Shipyard management agreed to the workers’ demands. But the shipyard workers decided to continue striking in a gesture of solidarity with the striking workers at other places.During the night, workers representing 21 enterprises that were on strike set up a coalition strike committee. with Lech Walesa in charge.Meanwhile, the Ministry of Internal Affairs created a task force to get the situation under control.
The coalition strike committee then prepared a list of 21 workers’ demands.A few days later, on August 18, the workers’ movement encompassed 156 workplaces. On August 21 it was 350 workplaces. Basically the whole Baltic Coast was on strike.Then the huge Lenin Steelworks in Krakow, on the other side of Poland, joined the strike. On August 25 in Moscow the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union appointed a special Commission for Poland.On August 25 strikes broke out at workplaces and at city transit systems in Lodz, in central Poland, and in Wroclaw in the south.By then the coalition strike committee was representing workers from more than 500 organizations. The strikes in Krakow and Wroclaw spread.
A strike began at the Manifest Lipcowy mine in the Silesian town of Jastrzebie.In fact, strikes began spreading across the whole country. At a secret meeting, the leadership of the Polish United Workers’ Party (PUWP), or Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robotnicza (PZPR), decided to continue the dialogue with the strikers, rejecting some officials’ calls for suppressing the uprising by force.Party leaders decided to approve both a Gdansk Agreement and a Szczecin Agreement. The Szczecin and Gdansk agreements allowed citizens to implement democratic changes within the Communist political structure. The workers’ main concern was to establish a trade union independent of Communist party control and achieve the legal right to strike. Other major concerns were to control prices and curtail the use of foreign currency in internal economic dealings, ensuring the proper supply of resources within the nation and the export only of excess goods. This would ensure a better chance for prosperity within the nation for citizens. Szczecin is another Baltic city.On August 31 the government and the coalition strike committee signed the Gdansk Agreement, ending the strike.
Its most important provision allowed the formation of independent trade unions.As part of the agreement, Deputy Prime Minister Mieczyslaw Jagielski agreed to release all political prisoners, including those jailed for union-related activities. The Moscow-based Communist Party newspaper Pravda newspaper warned the Polish party leadership against further concessions.Lech Walesa said he wanted to “thank once again Mr. PM and all those forces which prevented the imposition of any forcible solution, thanks to which we really came to terms with each other as a Pole with a Pole.””We go back to work on September 1,” he told the strikers. “You trusted me at all times, so please believe in what I say: We have achieved all that we could achieve in the present situation. And we will achieve the rest, too, because we have the most important thing – our independent, self-governing trade unions. This is our guarantee for the future.”On September 1, the government released strikers and other political prisoners. Strike committees transformed themselves into founding committees of trade unions.A historic meeting of delegates of founding committees from all over the country convened in Gdansk on September 17. Those at the meeting decided to set up a national union federation known as Solidarity. It was officially registered with the government on 24 October.