The Lenin Gdańsk Shipyard went on strike on 14 August. Unlike to previous protests, this strike 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. By noon, 14 August, 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. Over the following days, strikes started in other Tri-City plants. The gates of the plants were closed, strike guards were appointed to verify all people entering the enterprises, and alcohol was prohibited. On 16 August, representatives of the striking enterprises established the Inter-Enterprise Strike Committee in Gdańsk with its HQ in the Gdańsk Shipyard, and prepared a list of 21 demands. The demand to establish independent trade unions took the top spot.
In the wake of the strikes, called “breaks at work” by the authorities, proclaimed in the Lublin Region, Gdańsk and Gdynia, the Adolf Warski Shipyard in Szczecin stopped working on 18 August 1980 during the breakfast break, at around 10:40 a.m. Then the “Parnica” Shipyard went on strike. In total, 20 plants from Szczecin stopped working. The Inter-Enterprise Strike Committee (MKS) was established, headed by Marian Jurczyk. Following the experiences from Gdańsk, the MKS from Szczecin displayed boards with demands.
On 21 August 1980 at 10:00 a.m., negotiations between the Inter-Enterprise Strike Committee and the Government Committee, headed by Deputy PM Kazimierz Barcikowski, started in the main common room of the Szczecin Shipyard. Barcikowski rejected the political demands and tried to antagonise the MKS from Szczecin and the one from Gdańsk. He presented the latter as quarrelsome. The talks were suspended. 105 representatives of various departments of the Shipyard and 106 representatives of 53 enterprise strike committees participated in the meeting. The workers presented 36 demands. Further plants joined MKS from Gdańsk.
On the evening of 23 August 1980 (Saturday), a delegation from the Szczecin MKS visited the Gdańsk Shipyard. The delegates explained the situation in Szczecin as well as the works on the content of the most important strike demand, which referred to the establishment of independent trade unions. It was assumed that the strike in Szczecin would not end if the demands concerning free trade unions and guaranteeing the safety of the strikers were not met. The Szczecin and Gdańsk Inter-Enterprise Strike Committees exchanged delegates. Moreover, direct telephone contact between the two strike committees was established. The delegation went to Gdańsk once again on 25 August. As a result of these contacts, the expectations of the strikers concerning one of the fundamental demands were eventually specified.
A basic demand concerned the establishment of independent trade unions. On 24 August 1980, striking workers established a social fund for the Free Trade Unions. Nearly PLN 1.5 million was collected for its operations. The authorities continued to refuse the establishment of independent unions. Therefore, talks were suspended on 27 August 1980. Finally, the Government Committee and the MKS created a group of experts to work on the elaboration of the interpretation of the legal basis for the establishment of independent trade unions.
Striking workers wanted to have access to information; they were striving for free communication with the rest society. On 21 August 1980, “Komunikat Zakładowego Komitetu Strajkowego” (“Announcement of the Enterprise Strike Committee”) was printed at the premises of FMS “Polmo”. It was later turned into a magazine entitled “Informacje” (“Information”). On 24 August 1980, the first issue of the Szczecin MKS magazine entitled “Jedność” (“Unity”) was published. Its title referred to the newspaper published by the Gdańsk MKS — “Solidarność” (“Solidarity”). Leszek Dlouchy, an engineer from the “Gryfia” Shipyard, was the editor of “Unity”.
Following a famous poem of the time by an anonymous author: “(…) From the mountains to Gdańsk (…) Not Gdańsk and not Radom / Not Lublin, Warsaw / But the entire Poland / Is sick of lawlessness (…)”, the striking Szczecin Shipyard was supported by many plants from various industries and cities other than Szczecin. On 28 August 1980, a delegation from the Wrocław MKS stayed in Szczecin, leading to the creation of the Inter-Voivodeship Strike Committee Szczecin–Wrocław–Bydgoszcz. Work was interrupted also in the cities of Świnoujście, Police, Koszalin, Białogard, Szczecinek, Elbląg, and Gorzów Wielkopolski, amongst others. Initially, 20 plants joined the Szczecin MKS. Later, this number grew to 60. 150 plants were striking in Szczecin Voivodeship, employing over 150,000 people. Crews of over 210 enterprises were supporting the strikers.
When maritime workers, railway men and drivers joined the strikes, stagnation ensued in the public space. Everything stopped. Public transport effectively ceased to operate. On 25 August 1980, employees of the Polish Ocean Lines in Szczecin as well as the crews of ships mooring in Szczecin port went on strike. The government press expressed concern regarding this situation. After all, it affected the socialist economy.
People have to eat, otherwise they’ll die. Therefore, the authorities may have had the idea to starve the strikers out. Luckily, it didn’t happen and the striking workers had the necessary food delivered. Warm meals were prepared in the shipyard’s rooms. People were helping each other and did their best to be friendly—that’s how solidarity was born. The society was uniting.
Life during the strike also included the usual, daily rituals. The state of health of the strikers was also being checked. People were trying to fight tension in different ways. They were trying to rest wherever they could, to take a nap, sleep, find some peace. They were doing it all to reduce the stress resulting from the talks with the authorities, and to gain some strength to fight for the benefit of Poland.
The communist authorities were starting or initiating activities aimed at slowing down the development of strikes. They did all they could to discourage the workers from striking. When it was found that it wasn’t helping, the authorities aimed at discrediting the strikers. To that end, they used propaganda. The official media knew how to do it. Most frequently, they were trying to ignore the matter. However, the determination of the protesters was huge, and at the end of the day, all of the propaganda measures failed.
Leaflets of the government side calling for the discontinuation of strikes and informing about government decisions taken to improve the supply situation and introduce pay rises. According to them, only ending the strikes can save the economy from disaster, and the strikes themselves are caused by irresponsible, hostile elements posing a threat to the security of the state. “When the Party’s management and the Government do everything to navigate the country through these difficult times, the attitude of the strikers paralyses the process of normalisation and enforcing legitimate demands of the whole society”.
The society wanted to hear uncensored news about the latest events. However, the official mass media never enjoyed full social confidence. The strikers’ aim was to make the public life open during the strikes. Radio Free Europe played a huge part in overcoming the blockade of information. However, its broadcasts were being blocked and jammed by the Polish authorities from the very beginning. Inhabitants of Szczecin could listen to the August talks between the MKS and the Government Committee through loudspeakers. Participants and listeners were frequently recording them using portable tape-recorders. It was an inherent scene of the August strikes.
Poland is a country inhabited mostly by Catholics, and workers were frequently religious. Catholic priests were supporting the strikers and providing them with spiritual aid. On Sunday, 24 August 1980, at 9:30 a.m., priest Jerzy Sosna, the parson of the local St. Stanisław Kostka parish, said the first mass at the Szczecin Shipyard. Many worshippers gathered in the square in front of the shipyard’s gate as well as behind it to participate in the mass. A portrait of the Holy Father John Paul II was one of the religious elements of the decorations. It was hung on the shipyard’s gate.
Prolonged negotiations with the authorities led to separation from families. The strike entailed no husband or father at home for a long time. Hence, wives, children and mothers were coming to the workers. Naturally, the plant’s gate became the meeting place. Foreign media reports frequently showed this place.
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 agreement was signed by: on behalf of the government—Kazimierz Barcikowski, Andrzej Żabiński and Janusz Brych, and on behalf of the MKS—Marian Jurczyk, Kazimierz Fischbein and Marian Juszczuk. The MKS became the Inter-Enterprise Workers' Committee, which started to organise the new unions. The Szczecin agreement included a provision concerning the establishment of free trade unions. However, the new unions would acknowledge their socialist character and were obliged to join the Central Council of Trade Unions.
Man is Born and Lives Free
The strikes in Poland in 1980
the establishment of Solidarity
Materials provided by: PPA, KARTA Centre, Institute of National Remembrance, National Museum in Szczecin – Dialogue Centre Upheavals, Pomeranian Library, Silesian Digital Library, Historical Archive of the National Commission of NSZZ “Solidarność”.
Photographs taken by: Stefan Cieślak, Erazm Ciołek, Stanisław Markowski, Janusz Uklejewski, Jerzy Undro.
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”.