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Solidarity Union
 

The history of Solidarity began in August 1980 at the Gdańsk Shipyards where Lech Wałęsa and others formed the Union. It became the first independent labor union in a Soviet-bloc country. Solidarity gave rise to a broad anti-communist nonviolent social movement that united 10 million members and vastly contributed to the fall of communism.

 

In mid 70-ties Poland precipitated a slide into increasing depression, as foreign debt mounted. In June 1976, the first workers' strikes took place, involving violent incidents at factories in Radom and Ursus. The worker's movement received support from intellectual dissidents, many associated with the Committee for Defense of the Workers (Polish: Komitet Obrony Robotników, KOR), formed in 1976. On October 16, 1978, the Bishop of Kraków, Karol Wojtyła, was elected Pope John Paul II. Next year, during his first pilgrimage to Poland, his masses were attended by millions people. To many Poles, he represented a spiritual and moral force that could be set against brute material forces; he was a bellwether of change, and became an important symbol - and supporter - of changes to come.

 

In August 1980, the shipyard workers began their strike led by electrician Lech Wałęsa, a former shipyard worker dismissed in 1976. The strike committee demanded respect to workers' rights and other social concerns as well as the raising of a monument to the shipyard workers who had been killed in 1970 and the legalization of independent trade unions. The Polish government enforced censorship, and official media said little about the "sporadic labor disturbances in Gdańsk"; all phone connections between the coast and the rest of Poland were soon cut. Nonetheless a spreading wave of samizdats (Polish: bibuła), including Robotnik (The Worker), and grapevine gossip, along with Radio Free Europe broadcasts, ensured that the ideas of the emerging Solidarity movement quickly spread. By August 21, most of Poland was affected by the strikes, from coastal shipyards to the mines of the Upper Silesian Industrial Area. As a result a Governmental Commission arrived in Gdańsk. On August 30 and 31, and on September 3, representatives of the workers and the government signed an agreement ratifying many of the workers' demands, including the right to strike (known as: August or Gdańsk agreement).

 

The agreement enabled citizens to introduce democratic changes within the communist political structure and was regarded as a first step toward dismantling the Party's monopoly of power. Encouraged by the success - on September 17 workers' representatives, including Lech Wałęsa, formed a nationwide labor union, Solidarity - the first independent labor union in a Soviet-bloc country.

 

Martial law (1981–83)

After the Gdańsk Agreement, the Polish government was under increasing pressure from the Soviet Union to strengthen its position. On December 13, 1981, Gen. Jaruzelski declared martial law. Solidarity's leaders, gathered at Gdańsk, were arrested and isolated by the Security Service, and some 5,000 Solidarity supporters were arrested in the middle of the night. Censorship was expanded, and military forces appeared on the streets. A couple of hundred strikes and occupations occurred, chiefly at the largest plants and at several Silesian coal mines, but were broken by ZOMO paramilitary riot police. One of the largest demonstrations, on December 16, 1981, took place at the Wujek Coal Mine, where government forces opened fire on demonstrators, killing 9 and seriously injuring 22. In October, 1982, Solidarity was delegalized and banned. In July 1983, martial Law was formally lifted, though many heightened controls on civil liberties and political life, as well as food rationing, remained in place through the mid- to late 1980s.

 

Solidarity underground (1982–88)

Almost immediately after the legal Solidarity leadership had been arrested, underground structures began to arise. On April 12, 1982, Radio Solidarity began broadcasting. On April 22 an Interim Coordinating Commission was created to serve as an underground leadership for Solidarity. June 1982 saw the creation of a Fighting Solidarity (Solidarność Walcząca) organization. Throughout the mid-1980s, Solidarity persevered as an exclusively underground organization. Its activists were dogged by the Security Service (SB), but managed to strike back. On November 14, 1982, Wałęsa was released. However in December the SB arrested over 10,000 activists. Yet Solidarity was far from broken: by early 1983 the underground had over 70,000 members, whose activities included publishing over 500 underground newspapers.

On July 22, 1983, the martial law was lifted, and amnesty was granted to many imprisoned Solidarity members, who were released. On October 5, Wałęsa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The Polish government, however, refused to issue him a passport to travel to Oslo; Wałęsa's prize was accepted by his wife. On October 19, 1984, 3 agents of the Ministry of Internal Security murdered a popular pro-Solidarity priest, Jerzy Popiełuszko. As the facts emerged, thousands of people declared their solidarity with the murdered priest by attending his funeral, held on November 3, 1984.

 

Twilight of the Party (1988–89)

By 1988, Poland's economy was in worse condition than it had been eight years earlier. Polish exports were low, both because of the sanctions and because the goods were as unattractive abroad as they were at home. Foreign debt and inflation mounted. The government hiked food prices by 40%, so a new wave of strikes hit the country. Poland's communist government then decided to negotiate. The conference that began on February 6, 1989 would be known as the Polish Round Table Talks. After the elections of June 4th, Solidarity captured 161 of 161 contested Sejm seats, and 99 of 100 Senate seats. As agreed beforehand, Wojciech Jaruzelski was elected president. On August 24, the Sejm elected Tadeusz Mazowiecki, a Solidarity representative, to be Prime Minister of Poland. Not only was he a first non-communist Polish Prime Minister since 1945, he became the first non-Communist prime minister in Eastern Europe for nearly 40 years. In his speech he talked about the "thick line" which would separate his government from the communist past By the end of August 1989, a Solidarity-led coalition government had been formed.





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