For 35 years of its functioning, Solidarity Movement had a big influence on the form of the social and political life in our country. Therefore, the current anniversary has the character of not only an occasional event, but reaches back to the essence of processes which have been taking place in Poland since 1980

‘I think that at the base of Your big initiative which was being created during August weeks on the Coast and in other big cities of Polish labour, there was a kind of a collective spurt for raising morality of the society’. These memorable words of the Holy Father John Paul II, said to the delegation of the NSZZ ‘Solidarity’ Movement, during a general audience in Rome, on 15 January 1981, reflect a deeper sense of changes which took place in August 1980 in our country. The time of 16 months of legal activity of the Solidarity Movement in the years 1980-81 is also called ‘a self-limiting revolution’ (prof. Jadwiga Staniszkis) or even an uprising without violence. Today, from the perspective of passing 35 years, one can ask a question why the society was rebelling to the communist authority at that time, although that political system gave most people employment and minimal basis of material life. A young generation from the baby boom was entering the employment market, which, unlike the generation of their parents, was not as afraid of oppression of the totalitarian country, restricting basic human rights, like the right for freedom, faith, telling truth, and, first of all, a decent life. And in 1980 these minimal basis of material life were reduced, because planned economy was having a defeat in confrontation with the world of free market.

It began in Świdnik and Gdańsk

The first protest of that wave of strikes in Lubelszczyzna took place in Świdnik, after drastic prices increase on basic products, difficult to purchase during that political system, had been introduced by the government. It lasted 4 days, from 8 to 12 July, but what is characteristic – the authorities, being frightened by the revolt of many thousand people in the city, the symbol of the political system, similar to Nowa Huta near Cracow, suggested strikers appointing a representation for negotiations. The strikes in July in Lubelszczyzna comprised over 150 plants and brought promises of abolishing price rises. However, the problem of prices on basic products concerned the whole country. On 14 August 1980 this most important strike had already begun – in the Shipyard of Gdansk. What caused the strike was a demand of giving back gantry work to Anna Walentynowicz, the activist of Free Labour Unions, who had been illegally dismissed for 5 months before her retirement. And here we were dealing with a new quality: a small group of oppositionists, concentrated just on Free Labour Unions, gave a direction to this strike, putting the right to set up independent labour unions in the first place. Universality of strikes on the Coast which comprised nearly all work plants, and establishing their common representation for negotiation with the government gave a breakthrough result in the post-war history of countries captivated by the Soviet Union. There were many agreements of the authority with the rebellious society – on 30 August in Szczecin and on 31 August in Gdańsk, on 3 September in Jastrzębie and on 11 September in Katowice. Only this range of agreements, made under the pressure of strikes,, forced the communist authority to agree to establishment of one nationwide organization, which was NSZZ ‘Solidarity’ Movement. The communist authority gave in because it was not able to break the extraordinary unity of the awakened Polish nation. Awakened by the Holy Father John Paul II a year earlier during his pilgrimage to Poland in June, with said prophetic words: ‘May Your Holy Spirit descend and renew the face of the land, this land!’.

16 months of freedom

Till the moment of the first meeting in September 1981, the ‘Solidarity’ Movement gathered 9.5 million members and for a year it was building what had been destroyed by the communists, that is, the practice of suggesting authentic representatives in democratic elections, representing various groups, including the labour ones. That lesson of democracy might have been the most dangerous for the authority at that time, because those elected representatives could articulate the most important demands and create a program of reforms. That program of reforms, called the Self-governing Polish Republic, finished the first meeting of the ‘Solidarity’ Movement in Gdańsk. And it was a danger for the governing party at that time – PZPR which had got prepared to stifle this ‘Solidarity’ Movement by force. Introducing the martial law by the ‘criminal group’ (this name was given by the District Court in Warsaw in 2012), with Jaruzelski and Kiszczak at the helm, hindered the development of Poland for 8 years, till the moment of the first election of the contract seym on 4 June 1989. From today’s perspective, we have a dilemma, how to evaluate the passing 26 years of regained freedom. Could we take a good usage of it, according to the social postulates of the same ‘Solidarity’ Movement?

Today’s division into two political groups: around the governing Civil Platform party and the oppositionist Law and Justice party also gives an answer to the question. Electors of the Civil Platform party think that it is a well-used time, whereas the electors of the Law and Justice party think differently. And where is there Solidarity in it and what was its role at that time?

‘Solidarity’ Movement is allegedly reigning

Till today the NSZZ ‘Solidarity’ Movement has been led by four representatives: Lech Wałęsa (till 1990), Marian Krzaklewski (1991-2002), Janusz Śniadek ( 2002-10) and Piotr Duda (from 2010). Both Wałęsa and Krzaklewski had a direct influence on changes in the country through participating in holding the political authority and one can imagine that thanks to it, also the union had its contribution through an elaborated program or set out demands. However, there is very little truth in this assumption.

Reactivated union in 1989 had 2.3 million members and nearly at once was adjusted to demands because in the first years after 1989, was used as a protection umbrella for extremely liberal economic reforms and also deprived of real influence on their proceedings. All negative phenomena of the changes process were strongly contested by the union: enfranchisement on the state property of nomenclature, selling out enterprisers to the foreign capital for a song, which it mostly liquidated them, in order to take over the outlet market onto one’s goods, which caused the loss of workplaces. Next – the growth of social pathologies and pathologies on the labour market: poverty, drastic stratification, low salaries, unemployment and lack of permanent employment, ineffective system of medical care, etc.

The accumulation of these problems caused a situation in which the ‘Solidarity’ Movement elaborated another program of reforms and built a coalition of the party in the form of the Electoral Action ‘Solidarity’ after the reigning time of the SLD in the year 1993-97. Many of these planned acts could have changed the changes process at that time, like an act about the general enfranchisement or the pro-family tax. However, firstly, the Electoral Action ‘Solidarity’ entered an unbeneficial coalition with liberal Freedom Union, which deformed its actions, and, secondly – president Kwaśniewski vetoed even 28 key acts suggested by the Electoral Action ‘Solidarity’. Unfortunately, the balance of achievements of the Electoral Action ‘Solidarity’ turned out to be low, and defeat was big, and, maybe the unsuccessful pension reform was more painful, as well as liquidation of many mines of hard coal or unbeneficial sale of big state enterprises, including TP SA and Bank Pekao SA.

Return to roots

This disappointment was expressed by the Holy Father John Paul II during the last pilgrimage of the union to Rome in 2003, when the ‘Solidarity’ Movement was being led by Janusz Śniadek. It was the time when the union, according to the message of the Polish pope, returned to the roots. We should quote these memorable words of the Holy Father said at that time in Rome, which I was listening to personally when I was there: ‘Entering the world of politics and taking responsibility for governing the country, the ‘Solidarity’ Movement was forced to resign from defending interests of workers in many sectors of economic and public life. Let me say that today the ‘Solidarity’ Movement should return to its roots, its ideals which were its domain, as the labour union, if it wants to serve to the nation. The authority is passed over from hands to hands, and workers, farmers, teachers, medical care and all other employees, expect help in defence of their righteous rights, regardless of who is holding the power in the country.

Here the ‘Solidarity’ Movement must be present. Janusz Śniadek took these words very seriously into his heart, and according to them, during his cadency as the chairperson of the union, he defended workers. The years 2001-05 was the time of high unemployment, reaching up to 20 percent, restriction of workers’ rights and liquidation of other big enterprises whose great example was the defence of the Factory of Cables in Ożarów in 2002 or the Factory ‘Wagon’ in Ostrów Wielkopolski in 2003 by the unionists. Next years, till the year 2005, distinguished itself with the defence of employees by the union, against junk contracts (Poland became a disgraceful leader in the EU in it) and an organized protest against prolonging the retirement age by the government of Donald Tusk in 2012.

The ‘Solidarity’ Movement has been the biggest social organization in the country till today (numbering to 700 thousand members), which has an essential influence – although still not sufficient – on the world of politics and the social-economic life. It is possible just thanks to its history and ethos reaching back to the years 1980-81, to which activists of the ‘Solidarity’ movement refer all the time.


„Niedziela” 35/2015

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl