April 21, 2014
The Solidarity Movement
In the summer of 1980 Communist Poland was experiencing labor unrest at an unprecedented level. Living standards were still very low, the economy was stagnant, and food shortages and inflation were abundant. The Polish Communist Party was faced with nationwide strikes, and their tactics of buying off workers had failed because there were too many people striking. However, when the strikes spread to the Lenin Shipyard in Gdańsk on August 14th, everything was about to change. The strikers were backed by waves of support from other industrial centers, and the Communist Party was forced to negotiate with ...view middle of the document...
This was in part due to the election of the Archbishop of Krakow, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, as Pope John Paul II which adding to the stature and influence of the Catholic Church in Poland (Pittaway 173). By the end of the 1970’s the Polish economy was stagnant, and inflation was everywhere due to the burden of the national debt. The Polish government “was being forced to turn haltingly to policies of austerity, which transferred the burden of economic failure to the population, and the result was increasing discontent and social protest” (Pittaway 173). Likewise, in the summer of 1980, food prices had risen once again, and Poland was experiencing labor unrest at an unprecedented level. However, in August “following a history of contentious but unsuccessful uprisings by Poles against the communist regime, a modest strike was about to break through the stagnation” (Pearce 7). In the city of Gdańsk, at the Lenin Shipyards, 17,000 workers went on strike and refused to yield. This was not a spontaneous event, but was preceded by almost 6 weeks of strikes throughout Poland to protest rising prices and lack of access to governmental representation (Pearce 7). The Polish regime tried to censor the strikes by disconnecting all the telephone lines between Gdańsk and the rest of the country, but “underground presses succeeded in covering the story and spreading the shipyard workers’ message throughout Poland and the Eastern Bloc” (Local Life 1). The Gdańsk Strike Committee’s demands went beyond the scope of local concerns; the committee was calling “for the legal formation of independent trade unions, an end to media censorship, the right to strike, new rights for the Church, the freeing of political prisoners, and improvements in the national health system” (Local Life 1). Four days after the Gdańsk strike, “the Szczecin shipyard joined the Gdansk workers in protest which ignited a wave of strikes along the Polish coast. Within days most of Poland was affected by factory shutdowns. After gaining international support and media coverage, the Gdańsk shipyard workers were able to hold out longer than many of the other factories (Local Life 1). This wave of support in turn forced Poland’s Soviet government into serious negotiations with the Gdańsk workers. On September 3rd 1980, a signed agreement was ratified between Poland’s Soviet government and the striking workers committee which became known as the “Gdańsk Agreement”. This agreement “achieved the right to form labor unions independent of the Communist Party control, and the right to strike; common people were now able to introduce democratic changes into the communist political structure” (Local Life 1). With this agreement came the Independent Self-Governing Trade Union of Solidarity, and set in motion a revolution throughout the country of Poland.
Furthermore, Solidarity might not have succeeded if it wasn’t for the help of a recently fired electrician named Lech Walesa. Walesa was...