Gdynia

Janek Wiśniewski

08 Mar 2017

The shipyard strikes of August 1980, the August Accords that were born out of them and the explosion of membership of Solidarity which subsequently followed have served to mark out Gdansk as the spiritual home of the movement that was to change the face of 20th century central and eastern Europe. And while it is true that it was in Gdansk that the shipyard workers, represented by Lech Walesa, lit the touch-paper that ignited this incredible movement, it is important to know that the events of 1980 were strongly linked to events from 10 years earlier which took place in Gdynia and from which a legend was born. That was the legend of Janek Wiśniewski, a man about whom a famous ballad was written and a film was later made.

It was not by accident that the strikers of 1980 confronted the authorities not face-on but instead by locking themselves into the Lenin Shipyards. Lessons from unrest in 1970 had been learnt and the leaders of the strikes realised that public demonstrations were likely to be met with the full-force of the State’s security apparatus. This is exactly what had happened in Gdynia in December 1970 when shipyard workers from there (along with workers from Szczecin, Elbag and Gdansk) demonstrated against sudden price rises and food shortages. The authorities, conscious of the potential of a full-out workers’ revolt reacted by sending in armed units of army and militia who opened fire on the protesting workers. Exact numbers of dead and wounded are unclear but it is thought that over 40 people were killed in the wave of protests including one young man who would become known as Janek Wiśniewski.

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