Gdansk – 8

The next room moves on to 1980. An economic crisis led to the Communist government authorizing an increase in food prices for the summer of 1980. Once again a revival of labor disturbances erupted throughout the nation. Workers of the Lenin Shipyard in Gdańsk went on strike in mid-August, sparked by the firing of Anna Walentynowicz a crane operator, who was regarded as a trouble-maker by the management at the shipyard. Led by electrician Lech Wałęsa, the workers took control of the shipyard and demanded labour reform and greater civil rights including the freedom of expression and religion, and the release of political prisoners. The original 21 demands of the Inter-Factory Strike Committee written on plywood were hung on Gate 2 of the Gdansk Shipyard (this gate appears further along in the museum as it was destroyed by a T55 tank during a period of Martial Law). In 2003, these items were placed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register. Demand number 1 was the authorities should accept that Trade Unions such as Solidarity be independent. Number 2 was the guarantee of the right to strike. On the third day of the strike, on August 16, 1980, management granted Lenin Shipyard workers their working and pay demands. Lech Wałęsa and others announced the end of the strike. Two women at the shipyard, Anna Waletynowicz and Alina Pienkowska, managed to close the gates of the shipyard and keep some workers inside. Wałęsa was stopped near the Gate No° 1 as he was leaving, and was persuaded to change his plans and return to the shipyard. Over the next few days, he led the negotiations on the worker’s side and Mieczysław Jagielski was the main negotiator for the government. The Gdańsk Agreement was signed on 31 August 1980, recognizing the right to organize free trade unions independent of the Party for the first time in the Communist bloc. When the Solidarity trade union was registered shortly after the Gdańsk Agreement, it had nearly ten million members, the world’s largest union to date.

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