TheLenin Gdańsk Shipyard went on strike on 14 August. It was the biggest plant on the coast. Unlike previous protests from July and early August, the strike at the Gdańsk Shipyard had been planned in advance and the dismissal of Anna Walentynowicz served as a pretext to start acting. Members of the Free Trade Unions of the Coast were aware that the strike wave would reach Gdańsk. Therefore, Bogdan Borusewicz—an activist in the Unions—had planned how to initiate and carry out the strike. Leaflets had been prepared and distributed on 14 August at the shipyard and on the Fast Urban Railway (SKM) trains before the start of the first shift. The beginning of the strike went according to plan. By noon, the entire plant stopped working. The strike committee was chosen quickly. It was headed by Lech Wałęsa—a former shipyard worker who had been fired in 1976. Negotiating with the shipyard’s management started.
On 15 August, striking also started in other Tri-City plants. The Gdynia Shipyard, the “Remontowa” shipyard in Gdańsk, managements of ports in Gdynia and Gdańsk, ZKM, ELMOR, the Gdańsk Refinery and others went on strike. Everywhere, strike committees were being appointed and lists of demands were being drawn up. Economic demands were dominant, but there was also a political demand concerning the establishment of free trade unions. Sit-in strikes were announced everywhere. The gates of the plants were closed, strike committees were appointed and the guards were verifying all people entering the enterprises, and alcohol was prohibited.
On 16 August, the strike committee of the Gdańsk Shipyard, led by Lech Wałęsa, reached an agreement with the management of the shipyard. The workers were to get higher wages, Anna Walentynowicz and Lech Wałęsa were to be reinstated, a monument to the shipyard workers who fell in December 1970 was to be erected. As agreed, Lech Wałęsa announced the end of the strike. Delegations of other striking plants who had come to the shipyard felt cheated. Their strikes were bound to fail without the striking Gdańsk Shipyard. Anna Walentynowicz, Ewa Ossowska and Alina Pienkowska exhorted the workers leaving the shipyard from the plant’s gates to stay inside and go on a solidarity strike. However, many strikers left the shipyard. Only a few hundred remained. A solidarity strike was announced in cooperation with the representatives of the striking plants from Pomerania. The Inter-Enterprise Strike Committee (MKS) was established and work on the set of demands started.
Demands from the striking plants began reaching the headquarters of the MKS. The protesters were demanding higher wages, better work conditions, improved provisions, abolition of the privileges of the MO (Citizens' Militia) and SB (Ministry of Public Security), and the renewal of trade unions. There were also demands concerning the operating of certain plants, e.g. ensuring a dump truck for diggers to improve their efficiency—demanded by the Baza Sprzętu i Transportu Gdańskiego Przedsiębiorstwa Robót Montażowych i Elewacyjnych plant. Eventually, a list of 21 demands was prepared. The bold demand of the right to establish trade unions independent of the party and the employers took top spot. Other demands concerned the right to strike, respecting freedom of speech, and freeing political prisoners.
Despite the blockade of information introduced by the authorities, news about the strike on the coast reached Szczecin.On Monday, 18 August 1980, the “Parnica” Shipyard and the Adolf Warski Shipyard in Szczecin went on strike. As many as 20 plants in Szczecin stopped working on the first day. The Inter-Enterprise Strike Committee (MKS) was established, headed by Marian Jurczyk. A list of 36 demands was drawn up, including a clause concerning independent trade unions.
One of the first decisions made by the authorities concerned the introduction of a Tri-City information blockade. Telephones were cut off, while TV, radio and official press were providing scant news about the situation on the coast. Information about the establishment of the inter-enterprise strike structure and 21 demands wasn’t revealed for a long time. Demanders The workers were trying to put their own printing houses into action as quickly as possible to break the authorities’ information monopoly. Strikers from the Gdynia and Gdańsk shipyards got the plant printers and radio centres under control. They started printing leaflets and broadcasting negotiations. The “Strike Information Bulletin Solidarity” was being published in Gdańsk as of 23 August. One day later “Jedność” (“Unity”)—the magazine of the Szczecin MKS—was published in Szczecin.
How can you distinguish what is the truth? There were numerous instances in the past where the authorities manipulated and published misleading information. The same thing also happened this time. Leaflets printed by the authorities were scattered from a helicopter flying over the Gdańsk Shipyard announcing the end of the strike. The strikers were distributing their own leaflets—THE STRIKE GOES ON! In order to avoid any doubts concerning the demands of the strike committees, the demands were put on plywood and displayed in places accessible to great numbers of people: in Gdańsk, on gate no. 2 of the Gdańsk Shipyard; and in Szczecin, next to the fence of the Szczecin Shipyard.
The authorities were putting the start of negotiations with the Inter-Enterprise Strike Committees off for a long time. They were undertaking various measures to avoid real talks and to antagonise the strikers. Talks were initiated with the PZPR plant committees, the so-called workers’ self-governments. On 19 August, a commission was sent to Gdańsk headed by Deputy PM Tadeusz Pyka, with the task to talk to the strike committees of various plants, behind MKS’ back. And although several enterprises agreed initially to end the strikes, eventually, crews protested against these decisions stating that the MKS with its HQ in the Gdańsk Shipyard was the only representative appointed to talk to the authorities. Warsaw had no choice but to finally enter into proper negotiations. Government Committees arrived in Gdańsk and Szczecin on 21 August. The one in Gdańsk was headed by Deputy PM Mieczysław Jagielski, while the one in Szczecin, by Deputy PM Kazimierz Barcikowski. Difficult negotiations started.
More and more plants from distant locations were joining the Inter-Enterprise Strike Committees in Gdańsk and Szczecin. Plants in Silesia and the Dąbrowa Basin went on strike on 21 August to express their solidarity with the coast. Stoppage of work in large plants of the Polish People’s Republic came as a surprise for the authorities. On 28 August 1980, workers employed in a leading investment of the First Secretary of the Polish United Workers Party, Edward Gierek—the Katowice Steelworks in Dąbrowa Górnicza—started protesting. The “July Manifesto” and “Borynia” Mines in Jastrzębie-Zdrój stopped working the very same day. In the following days, the list of striking plants became much longer.
Despite the information blockade, the shipyard was receiving messages of support for the protest on the coast from all over Poland
Extraordinary things were happening at the shipyard. For the first time in the post-war history, the world received a clear message that the workers had openly opposed what was theoretically their representation—the Polish United Workers' Party (PZPR). The International Song Festival was being held at the same time in Sopot and foreign journalists and TV crews were accredited there. Thanks to this happy coincidence, the shipyard filled up with foreign reporters and it was hard to hide from the world what was going on there. The shipyard was receiving words of support and financial aid from trade unions from almost all Western European countries and the USA. American dockers from the American East Coast were boycotting the unloading of Polish ships.
Telegrams from all over the world supporting the strikers
Communism, which had ruled Poland for many years, could not defeat Polish Catholicism. Although the freedom to exercise religious practices was limited, and God had been ousted from the public space, strikers had faith and hope for victory in Mary, mother of Jesus and her Son. Thanks to masses said at the premises of the plants, near their gates, where strikers were gathering on one side, and visitors on the other, the participants could breathe a sigh of relief. It was a time of calming down the emotions, and renewal of personal strength to continue the fight, filling the long hours of idleness. The Tri-City was not the only place where the clergymen were supporting the strikers. Priest Jerzy Popiełuszko stayed with the workers of the Warsaw Smelter. The Holy Father was observing the events in Poland with concern and prayer. Strikers saw support in John Paul II. They were putting his pictures on the gates and fences, and next to temporary altars. The first visit of the Holy Father to Poland in 1979 and his words “Let your Spirit descend! Let your Spirit descend! And renew the face of the earth. The face of this land!” gave Poles hope for change and strength to fight.
The strike lasted long. Husband, father, son remained in the plant. The gates and fences of the plant became the place of meetings and exchanging information. People were gathering the entire time at gate no. 2 of the Gdańsk Shipyard. Family members, inhabitants of the Tri-City, and tourists searching for as much information about the protest as possible to take to their places of residence and work all came to the gate. On 23 On 23 August 1980, the Provincial Headquarters of the Citizens' Militia in Bielsko-Biała instituted a case of operational verification code-named “Distributor” because of three leaflets brought by a teacher from Sucha Beskidzka, who had been on holidays in Sopot. Leaflets from Gdańsk were found in a WSS butcher's shop in Żywiec.
The strike also meant long hours of idleness. How could the strikers fill them? How should they organise their daily life at the plant? Some of the protesters got passes from the MKS and could go home to take a bath or sleep well. Young, strong, healthy people did not leave the shipyard even for one minute. They all had to eat and sleep somewhere. Food was brought by families and local farmers, gardeners were bringing their own products, and bakers were delivering bread. Strikers collected money for food. The plant kitchens were preparing warm meals. Strikers were sleeping in temporary tents, on Styrofoam and in chairs. During the day, people would talk, play chess or cards. Strikers were visited by artists, who were reciting poems by Miłosz and Herbert, Kaczmarski’s songs were being sung and strike songs were written.
The first week of the protest was warm. Sadly, the following one wasn’t so. The rains came, the temperature during the nights dropped to a mere dozen or so degrees. However, this was insignificant for the strikers and their visitors. The strike went on.
The memory of December 1970 was still extremely fresh in August 1980, both in Szczecin as well as in Gdańsk. Demands were made to pay tribute to the victims of these events. Thanks to the experiences of December 1970, the strikers were not provoked and did not take the protests to the street. The authorities were not provided with a pretext to use violence. Many August strikers had participated in the December events 10 years earlier. Remembering the horror of those days, they weren’t entirely sure that the authorities would not opt for a similar solution in August 1980. From the beginning of the strike, money was being collected for the monument, which was supposed to be built where first victims had been killed near the Gdańsk Shipyard. A wooden cross was erected and a model of the future monument was placed on the executive table in the BHP Hall.
On Saturday, 30 August 1980, at 8:00 a.m., as a result of overnight negotiations, a social agreement was signed in the common room of the Adolf Warski Shipyard in Szczecin. Thus ended the nearly two-week-long strike. The signed document was entitled “Protokół ustaleń w sprawie wniosków i postulatów Międzyzakładowego Komitetu Strajkowego z Komisją Rządową w Szczecinie” (“Protocol of arrangements concerning the proposals and demands of the Inter-Enterprise Strike Committee with the Government Committee in Szczecin”). The MKS became the Inter-Enterprise Workers' Committee, which started to organise the new unions.
On 31 August 1980, an agreement was signed after 4 p.m. at the Gdańsk Shipyard between the Government Committee and Inter-Enterprise Strike Committee. Lech Wałęsa announced at gate no.2: “We have independent, self-governing trade unions!”. It was the second social agreement signed by the government of the PRL and the strikers approving the establishment of trade unions independent of the party. The first one was signed in Szczecin one day earlier. These agreements caused a breach in the communist system and started an avalanche, which brought about the fall of Communism in Poland and other Central and Eastern European states.
The climax of the strikes in Silesia came on 2 September 1980. Negotiations were being held in the “July Manifesto” coal mine between the Inter-Enterprise Committee (MKS) Presidium, and the Government Committee, headed by Deputy PM Aleksander Kopeć. On 3 September 1980, a document ending the strike was signed. It went down in history as the Jastrzębie-Zdrój Agreement. It was signed by Deputy PM Aleksander Kopeć, on behalf of the Government Committee, and Jarosław Sienkiewicz, on behalf of the MKS. The provisions confirmed the Gdańsk Agreement and announced the agreement of numerous social and living conditions. On 4 September 1980, the Bytom Agreement was signed at the “Dimitrov” coal mine, affirming the arrangements from Jastrzębie.
On 11 September 1980, an agreement was signed known as the Katowice Agreement, though it was signed in Dąbrowa Górnicza. On behalf of the government, it was signed by the Minister of Metallurgy, Franciszek Kaim, and on behalf of Katowice Steelworks’ MKR, by Andrzej Rozpłochowski. The agreement guaranteed the implementation of the Gdańsk Agreement in reference to the establishment of the structures of independent, self-governing trade unions. It also confirmed ultimately the authorities’ approval of the establishment of independent unions throughout the country. Another agreement was signed in the Katowice Steelworks on 23 October 1980. It concerned industry demands.
Strikes were still going on in Silesia, while the establishment of new trade unions had already started on the coast. Inter-Enterprise Strike Committees were transformed into the Inter-Enterprise Founding Committees of the new unions. Gdańsk became a centre of the new union movement. Representatives of these committees were coming, as well as representatives of the committees established in locations where agreements with the authorities hadn’t yet been signed. Lively discussions about the shape of the organisation were taking place. On 13 September, the Council of State of the Polish People's Republic issued a decree on the possibility to register new trade unions in the Voivodeship Court in Warsaw. Initially, a nationwide organisation based on a territorial structure wasn’t what had been planned. However, under pressure exerted by the representatives from Wrocław, Katowice, Szczecin and Warsaw and upon the request of the lawyer Jan Olszewski, it was decided on 17 September 1980 to establish the Independent Self-governing Trade Union “Solidarity”.
The word appeared for the first time during the strike at the Gdańsk Shipyard. Krzysztof Wyszkowski used it in the title of the information bulletin, while Jerzy Janiszewski, young artist, designed the symbol which would soon become the logo of the protest. The author managed to capture extremely well the essence of what was going on at the shipyard at that time—interpersonal solidarity and mutual support. As a result, Karol Modzelewski suggested that the word become an element of the name of the new trade union. The characteristic inscription is now one of the best-known Polish symbols in the world, right after the Holy Father, John Paul II.
In mid-October, Solidarity had 3 million members in 2,600 temporary plant committees. After a few more months, the membership of the “Solidarity” Trade Union exceeded 9 million. State authorities were still hindering the organisation of the workers. Union activists were being persecuted, administrative obstacles were created, workers were being fired for attempts to establish a trade union, people were being arrested, beaten. Agreements weren’t fulfilled either: wages were not raised, there was no access to the mass media. As a result, it was decided that Solidarity would carry out an hour-long warning strike on 3 October 1980. It was a success—life stopped in the whole country for one hour.
The condition of the economy, health services, and educational system was worsening. Salaries hadn’t been raised. Various professional groups, such as employees of the educational system and healthcare services, were entering into negotiations with the authorities. This did not bring the expected results. Resorting to strikes was necessary once again. On 21 October, railwaymen from the whole of Poland gathered in the Motive Power Depot in Wrocław and went on a hunger strike. On 7 November, a strike of 120 representatives of the healthcare services started at the Voivodeship Office in Gdańsk, and teachers were striking too. One more demand was added after 24 October—the registration of the “Solidarity” Trade Union without any changes to the charter. October was also a month of extremely intense travels and meetings with the August heroes: Anna Walentynowicz, Alina Pienkowska and Lech Wałęsa.
On 24 September, the National Coordinating Commission (a temporary management body of the Union) filed an application for the registration of the “Solidarity” Trade Union at the Voivodeship Court in Warsaw. One month later, the court registered the Union. However, it introduced changes to the charter without the consent of the applicants, but according to the wishes of the state authorities. Judge Zdzisław Kościelniak added to the document the inviolability of the international alliances of the Polish People’s Republic and the leading role of the Polish United Workers' Party. The interference resulted in a firm reaction from “Solidarity”. Readiness to strike was announced for 12 November 1980.
On 10 November 1980, an appeal trial concerning the registration of the “Solidarity” Trade Union took place. The Supreme Court rejected the wilful amendments of the Voivodeship Court. Simultaneously, the representatives of the Union agreed to add to the Charter an annex including the first part of the Gdańsk Agreement devoted to the leading role of the Polish United Workers' Party. Thus ended the process of legal establishment of the Independent Self-governing Trade Union “Solidarity”. Formally speaking, it was a trade union. Practically, it played the part of a social movement gathering all those opposing the authorities in the Polish People’s Republic, who were fighting for freedom, because according to one of the slogans used at the Gdańsk Shipyard in August 1980: “MAN IS BORN AND LIVES FREE”.
Man is Born and Lives Free
The strikes in Poland in 1980
the establishment of Solidarity
Materials provided by: PPA, KARTA Centre, Silesian Freedom and Solidarity Centre, Institute of National Remembrance, National Museum in Szczecin – Dialogue Centre Upheavals,
“Remembrance and Future” Centre, Pomeranian Library, Silesian Digital Library, Historical Archive of the National Commission of NSZZ “Solidarność”, “Katowice” Steelworks Archive.
Photographs taken by: Maciej Billewicz, Stefan Cieślak, Erazm Ciołek, Tomasz Gawałkiewicz, Witold Górka, Jakub Grelowski, Adam Hawałej, Stanisław Jakubowski, Ryszard Kowalski, Stefan Kraszewski, Wojciech Kryński, Stanisław Markowski, Wojciech Milewski, Jan Morek, Maciej Musiał, Małgorzata Niezabitowska i Tomasz Tomaszewski, Edmund Pepliński, Bogdan Różyc, Stanisław Składanowski, Tadeusz Sochor, Stanisław Sputo, Adam Szymański, Zbigniew Trybek, Janusz Uklejewski, Jerzy Undro, Ryszard Wesołowski, Andrzej Witusz, Jacek Zommer.
The Institute of Solidarity Heritage made every effort to contact the authors of the materials used. If you see your photographs among those which are unauthorised, please contact us.
Task name: Virtual exhibitions for the 40th anniversary of Solidarność en. “Man is Born and Lives Free”.