August 31, 2012


Poland is the only country in the world which celebrates its independence with two national holidays. On November 11th, which commemorates the return of Polish sovereignty and independence in 1918, after 123 years of partition by Russia, Prussia and Austria. And on August 31st to commemorate the Gdansk Agreement of 1980, a ground-breaking milestone between the Polish people and the Communist dictatorship. The accord represented a formal recognition by the Communist government of the trade union Solidarity, and of its list of demands. It opened the way for the introduction of sweeping democratic reforms, beginning with the the freedom to organize trade unions unfettered by Communist control, and the right to strike.

This list, written on two wooden boards, were displayed at the Gdansk shipyards: Its demands were as follows:

Poland Solidarity 21 Demands Solidarnosc_Lech Wales
1. Acceptance of free trade unions independent of the Communist Party and of enterprises, in accordance with convention No. 87 of the International Labor Organization concerning the right to form free trade unions.
2. A guarantee of the right to strike and of the security of strikers.
3. Compliance with the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech, the press and publication, including freedom for independent publishers, and the availability of the mass media to representatives of all faiths.
4. A return of former rights to: 1) People dismissed from work after the 1970 and 1976 strikes. 2) Students expelled because of their views. The release of all political prisoners, among them Edward Zadrozynski, Jan Kozlowski, and Marek Kozlowski. A halt in repression of the individual because of personal conviction.
5. Availability to the mass media of information about the formation of the Inter-factory Strike Committee and publication of its demands.
6. Bringing the country out of its crisis situation by the following means: a) making public complete information about the social-economic situation. b) enabling all social classes to take part in discussion of the reform programme.
7. Compensation of all workers taking part in the strike for the period of the strike.
8. An increase in the pay of each worker by 2,000 złoty a month.
9. Guaranteed automatic increases in pay on the basis of increases in prices and the decline in real income.

Lech Walesa speaking before crowds - Solidarnosc 198010. A full supply of food products for the domestic market, with exports limited to surpluses.
11. The abolition of ‘commercial’ prices and of other sales for hard currency in special shops.
12. The selection of management personnel on the basis of qualifications, not party membership. Privileges of the secret police, regular police and party apparatus to be eliminated.
13. The introduction of food coupons for meat and meat products.
14. Reduction in the age for retirement for women to 50 and for men to 55.
15. Conformity of old-age pensions and annuities with what has actually been paid in.
16. Improvements in the working conditions of the health service.
17. Assurances of a reasonable number of places in day-care centers and kindergartens for the children of working mothers.
18. Paid maternity leave for three years.
19. A decrease in the waiting period for apartments.
20. An increase in the commuter’s allowance to 100 złoty.
21. A day of rest on Saturday. Workers in the brigade system or round-the-clock jobs are to be compensated for the loss of free Saturdays with increased leave or other paid time off.

Lech Walesa giving victory sign - Solidarnosc 1980

Lech Walesa, an electrician by trade, rose up against the Soviet monolith, and in 1970 instigated a series of illegal strikes at the Gdansk shipyards, protesting the governments increase of food prices. The strikes resulted in the deaths of 30 protestors. Walesa was fired from his job at the shipyard, was under constant surveillance by the secret police, and arrested numerous times. On August 14, 1980, after a decade of struggle, Walesa organized another strike against government hike of food prices. and became the chairman of the National Coordinating Committee, a legally recognized entity of the Solidarnosc Trade Union.

Time Magazine Cover Lech Walesa Solidarnosc SolidarityHowever by December 13, 1981, the momentum had drastically shifted when General Jaruzelski declared martial law, and had Walesa and many other Solidarity members arrested and imprisoned for almost a year. In October 1982, Solidarity was outlawed by the Communist government, amid a hurl of international condemnation. A year later Walesa returned to work at the Gdansk Shipyard, and it was at this time that he learned that he was to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Though he wished to accept the prize he was unwilling to leave Poland and risk the chance of not being able to return. Instead, his wife Danuta accepted the prize in his absence.

Despite government sanctions against Solidarity, Walesa continued his activism unabated, publishing his weekly underground newspaper, Tygodnik Mazowsze, and organizing work-stoppage strikes at the shipyards. In 1986 the government declared amnesty for the Solidarity activists.  Soon after Walesa co-founded the Provisional Council of NSZZ Solidarity, and a year later led the Provisional Executive Committee of the Solidarity Trade Union. By mid 1988, he began organizing more work-stoppage strikes at the Gdańsk Shipyard.

After months of strikes and deliberations the Communist leadership finally agreed to meet for round-table discussions with Solidarnosc, which convened from February to April 1989. During these meetings, Walesa travelled extensively throughout Poland giving speeches and garnering public support. By the conclusion of the conference, the Communists finally conceded and signed an agreement to re-instate Solidarnosc and permit the organization of "semi-free" elections to the Sejm ( Polish Parliament.) At that time only members of the Communist party could hold 65% of the seats in the Sejm.

In June 1989, the Solidarity Citizens Committee (that had been established only six months earlier) won parliamentary elections in a landslide taking all seats in the Sejm, and all seats, except one in the new Senate. Walesa ran for the office of the President and on December 9, 1990 won his bid, becoming the first democratically elected President in Poland. using the slogan " I don't want to, but I've got no choice" (Nie chcem, ale muszem.) President Walesa was instrumental in the negotiating numerous changes for Poland, foremost the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Polish soil, and a substantial reduction of Poland's foreign debt.

Solidarnosc Logo Solidarity Solidarnosc was a Revolution long in the making and had a monumental impact. They garnered over 10 million members in Poland, constituting a fourth of Poland's population. Walesa's courageous struggle won him international attention, and instigated similar movements in other satellite states of the Eastern Bloc, that would challenge and topple Communist control, like dominoes.

Solidarnosc was the instrument which fought for Poland's freedom. But the instigator, the spiritual spark, was delivered by a son of Poland, Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II. His visit to Poland in 1979 instilled new found hope among the Polish people that liberation was within reach. He energized, nay, electrified a nation to ready themselves for change, by using subtle words of goodness. Be Not Afraid.

Pope John Paul II and Lech Walesa_Solidarnosc-Solidarity Union

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