Leaflet informing about commencement of the strike in the Gdańsk Shipyard and strike demands. Apart from returning Anna Walentynowicz to work, its demands included allowing other people fired for their activism in the Free Trade Unions of the Coast to return to work, the release of political prisoners, erecting a monument to the shipyard workers who fell in December 1970, pay rises and better supplies in stores, as well as the establishment of trade unions independent of the employer.
The Lenin Gdańsk Shipyard went on strike on 14 August. It was the biggest plant on the coast. Contrary to the 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 of 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 had 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, strikes 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 elaborated. Economic demands 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 of 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.Eventually, a list of 21 demands was prepared. The bold demand of consent to establish trade unions independent of the party and 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 that first day. The Inter-Enterprise Strike Committee (MKS) was established, headed by Marian Jurczyk. A list of 36 demands were formulated, including a clause concerning independent trade unions.
Workers made the first attempts to strike on 1 August 1980 in Bieruń Stary. However, protests in the Fazos factory in Tarnowskie Góry turned out to be the spark that ignited the strike in Upper Silesia and the Dąbrowa Basin. To express solidarity with the coast, Fazos employees stopped working on 21 August 1980. By 27 August 1980, protests also broke out amongst the crews of plants in Będzin, Wodzisław Śląski, Bytom, Chorzów, Gliwice, Katowice, Krupski Młyn, Miasteczko Śląskie, Mikulczyce, Niwki, Piekary Śląskie, Rybnik and Zabrze.
Photo. Romuald Broniarek / KARTA Centre
The work stoppage in large plants of the Polish People’s Republic came as a surprise to the authorities. On 28 August 1980, workers employed in a premier enterprise established by the First Secretary of the Polish United Workers Party, Edward Gierek—the Katowice Steelworks in Dąbrowa Górnicza—started protesting, initially without stopping work. They were demanding that the official press publish information about their support for the strikes on the coast. In 1980, the Katowice Steelworks, the largest iron & steel corporation in Poland, employed around 17,500 people from all over the entire country. Mostly young people worked there, with 70% of the crew being under 30, and 35% of the men unmarried.
28 August 1980 was a breakthrough day for the spreading strikes. Two mines in Jastrzębie-Zdrój stopped working on this day. Ca. 1,000 miners refused to work in the “July Manifesto” Mine. The “Borynia” Mine then joined in. The next day, a strike broke out at the “ZMP” Coal Mine in Żory, in the branches of the Państwowa Komisja Samochodowa (PKS—Motor Transport Company) in Rybnik and Wodzisław Śląski, in the “Polkowice” Mine in Zagłębie Miedziowe, at Plant No. 2 of Fabryka Samochodów Małolitrażowych (FSM) in Tychy, at Plant No. 1 of FSM in Bielsko-Biała… 28 mines and 28 other plants were striking at the same time.
During the night of 28 to 29 August 1980, strikes broke out in two mines in Jastrzębie-Zdrój and the Iron & Steel Corporation of Katowice Steelworks in Dąbrowa Górnicza. Strike committees were established. Stefan Pałka became the chairman of the strike committee of the “July Manifesto” Mine. Jarosław Sienkiewicz led the protests in the “Borynia” Mine. Initially, the strike committee of the Katowice Steelworks was headed by Marek Fabry, but he was later dismissed and replaced by Andrzej Rozpłochowski.
Prolonged strikes led to the separation of families, husbands from wives, fathers from children. Hence, the strikers were meeting with their relatives by the gates of their plants. It was understood that they were protesting to fight for a better future and decent life.
Strikers and supporting workers in the Chief Mechanic Hall at the Katowice Steelworks, had food delivered during the negotiations with the authorities. Plant canteens were also working during the strikes preparing meals for the protesters.
Similarly to Gdańsk and Szczecin, Roman Catholic priests were providing the workers with spiritual support. One of these clergymen was priest Bernard Czernecki from the Blessed Virgin Mary Mother of the Church church (the so-called church on the hill) in Jastrzębie-Zdrój. Between August and September 1980, he supported the striking miners of the Jastrzębie-Zdrój mines in a spiritually capacity. He was their pastor. He was making appeals during daily masses asking the families of the miners not to encourage the strikers to leave the mines. The help provided by the priests strengthened when the protests intensified, when rotary strikes started to change to sit-in strikes. Masses were said in numerous mines between Sunday, 31 August 1980 and Monday, 1 September 1980. Statuettes of St. Barbara, paintings of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa and pictures of Pope John Paul II reappeared in the plants again. Strikers from the “July Manifesto” Mine in Jastrzębie-Zdrój were demanding the broadcast of Mass on radio and TV. Clergymen handed out ca. 3,000 rosaries amongst the strikers. Initially, they were intended for the First Communion children. They also handed out ca. 1,000 images of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa and several dozen crosses.
The climax of the strikes came on 2 September 1980. Negotiations in the “July Manifesto” coal mine started in the morning. The Inter-Enterprise Committee (MKS) Presidium and the Government Committee headed by Deputy PM Aleksander Kopeć participated. The MKS was representing the crews of 56 plants, including 28 striking mines. These included the following mines, amongst others: Andaluzja, Anna, Borynia, Barbara, Bolesław Śmiały, Halemba, Jastrzębie, Julian, Katowice, Lenin, Marcel, Moszczenica, Nowy Wirek, Piast, 1 Maja, Pokój, Rydułtowy, Rymer, Staszic, Suszec, Śląsk, XXX-lecia PRL, Wieczorek, Wujek, Zabrze, ZMP… as well as Przedsiębiorstwo Robót Górniczych “Jastrzębie” and “Rybnik”. According to other estimations, 50 plants and enterprises stopped working, including 25 mines and 5 transportation bases. By 5 September, 49 mines from the Katowice Voivodeship employing 276,000 people were striking. Meanwhile, 238,000 miners, accounting for 86% of employees, were protesting.
On 3 September 1980, at 5:45 a.m., a document ending the strike was signed in the “July Manifesto” Coal Mine. It went down in history as the Jastrzębie-Zdrój Agreement. It was signed by the 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 execution of numerous social and living clauses, inter alia: lifting the 4-team system of work in the coal industry, lowering the retirement age in mining, recognising pneumoconiosis as an occupational disease, and introducing non-working Saturdays from 1 January 1981. The execution of the agreement was supposed to be supervised by the Mixed Committee. On 4 September 1980, the Bytom Agreement was signed at the “Dimitrov” Coal Mine, approving the arrangements from Jastrzębie.
The Katowice Steelworks MKS, which became the Inter-Enterprise Workers' Committee (MKR) signed the fourth agreement with the Government Committee on 11 September 1980. It was called the Katowice Agreement. On behalf of the government, it was signed by the Minister of Metallurgy, Franciszek Kaim, and on behalf of the Katowice Steelworks’ MKR, by Andrzej Rozpłochowski. The agreement made it possible to establish structures of independent, self-governing unions throughout the country. The Gdańsk Agreement included a provision devoted to the establishment of free trade unions only on the coast. This agreement was confirmed on 13 September by a decree allowing the registration of new trade unions in the Voivodeship Court in Warsaw. The document was issued by the Council of State of the Polish People's Republic. Eventually, the agreement concerning metallurgy was signed on 23 October 1980.
Despite the ongoing negotiations with the party and government, the MKR (with its headquarters at the Katowice Steelworks) was the first in Poland to appeal on 6 and 7 September to the Inter-Enterprise Founding Committee (MKZ) in Gdańsk and the MKR in Szczecin demanding the establishment of one nationwide trade union with one leadership. Eventually, the Independent Self-governing Trade Union “Solidarity” was established on 17 September in Gdańsk during a meeting of MKZ delegations from the entire country. As for the Katowice Voivodeship, following a wave of strikes, the Katowice Steelworks and MKR Jastrzębie became the main regional union movement centres. On 23 September 1980, the MKR at the Katowice Steelworks became an MKZ with a temporary seat at the Katowice Steelworks (later MKZ Katowice). In October, it associated 283 plants. The Inter-Enterprise Workers' Committee from Jastrzębie (later called the Inter-Enterprise Workers' Committee – Founding Committee) was the second leading centre.
Information materials on the role and functions of trade unions
The extent of the protests in the Silesia/Dąbrowa region was smaller than those on the coast and had weaker social support. This resulted, amongst others, from the fact that the Katowice Steelworks plant was located far away from the city centre. The balance of the August and September strikes was as follows: the longest lasted seven days, the shortest, a couple of hours: in 89 plants, they lasted 2–4 days, in 43 plants, a few hours, workers from two shifts took part in 30 strikes. According to other calculations, strikes were held in 86 plants from the Katowice Voivodeship between 1 July and 30 September. Ca. 126,000 people participated, accounting for 7.8% of workers. It is stressed that the majority of protests in Upper Silesia and the Dąbrowa Basin happened between late August and mid-September 1980. According to other data, between 21 August and early October 1980, strikes were organised and work was stopped in a total of 272 plants employing 880,000 people, while the number of protesters reached 310,000 people. Strike committees were established in 147 plants and enterprises.
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, Pomeranian Historical Initiative Foundation
Photographs taken by: Romuald Broniarek, Stefan Cieślak, Stanisław Jakubowski, Ryszard Kowalski, Stanisław Markowski, Wojciech Milewski, Bogdan Różyc, Stanisław Sputo, Jerzy Undro, Ryszard Wesołowski, 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”.