Solidarity movement anniversary commemorated in Gdansk
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Thirty years ago Tuesday, an electrician led a burgeoning labour movement that would forever change Poland and the world. Lech Walesa’s bold advocacy for labour rights would ultimately lead to Communism’s demise in Europe.
Commemorations have been underway in Poland since last week and will continue over the next two days to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the landmark Solidarity labour movement. On Sunday, Prime Minister Donald Tusk was joined by the man who led the historic strikes and later himself became premier, Lech Walesa, for a commemoration ceremony at the Gdansk shipyard in Northern Poland where it all began. Walesa, for his part, is not expected to take part in any of the other anniversary events due to what he has described as “fatigue”. In recent years, Walesa has had a falling out with the current leadership of the Solidarity movement, which supports the conservative Law and Justice opposition party.
The Soviet tanks and heavy armor that massed along the Polish border in August 1980 served as a potent reminder of just how high the stakes were for the thousands of Polish dock workers that were on strike. The labourers, led by an electrician named Lech Walesa, brought the economy to its knees by shutting down the country’s ports, and subsequently Polish industry as a whole. The walk-outs began in Gdansk and later spread across the country.
shortages and corruption. With each passing day of the strike, as more and more of the country’s workforce idled, the government faced the prospect of an all out economic collapse. By the fourteenth day in Gdansk, on August 31, 1980, after numerous rounds of negotiations, Walesa and his government counterparts finally reached what would be an historic agreement. For the first time in Poland’s communist history, independent trade unions could be established with the full power of collective bargaining and the right to strike.
Within days of Walesa’s deal in Gdansk, labor leaders across the country won similar concessions from local Communist Party officials. One by one the strikes came to an end, giving Walesa the necessary momentum to transform the country’s once-fragmented labour movement into a unified force. “The Independent Self-Managing Trade Union Solidarity" was born and so was the Solidarity movement that would play a vital role in the process of ending communist rule in Europe.