Gdansk

The Story of Solidarity

02 Aug 2016

The word Solidarity, or Solidarność as it is in Polish, is synonymous with the city of Gdansk. Although the movement which burst into life at the time of the shipyard strikes of 1980 is closely connected with Gdansk, the phenomenon that was Solidarność was not confined to the city. If truth be told there are other cities in Poland which feel that Gdansk has unfairly become the symbol for a movement that connected with and was born from Poles throughout the country. But for the foreign visitor with a memory of the 1980 strikes the image of Solidarity is Gdansk, its shipyards and the leader of the protests - Lech Wałęsa.

The story of Solidarity is a more complicated one than most foreign visitors will be aware of. Although the movement and the trade union were officially christened in 1980, their roots can be traced back some ten years earlier. Protesting against plunging living standards workers at the Lenin Shipyards in Gdansk and other yards in Gdynia, Elblag and Szczecin took to the streets, with the army promptly called in to intervene. Bloody clashes led to the deaths of 44 people, and ultimately forced communist leader Władysław Gomułka out of power. Replaced by Edward Gierek, his half-mad economic policies served to create an illusion of prosperity, as well as generating a flush of jobs in Gdansk’s Nowy Port area. But the memory of 1970 did not fade and Gdansk remained a ticking bomb for the authorities. With the seventies drawing to a close tensions started to rise again, with living standards falling and the economy in huge debt built on massive foreign loans. On August 7, 1980 the dismissal of female crane operator, Anna Walentynowicz at Gdansk’s Lenin Shipyards provided the spark for workers to go on strike. Workers already disillusioned with price increases and the falling value of their salaries were ready to take action.

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