Poland Monument to Shipyard Workers Fallen in 1970, created following the GdaÅsk Agreement, and unveiled December 16, 1980. Civil disobedience was a tactic used by the Polish in protest of the former communist government. In the 1970s and 1980s, there occurred a deepening crisis within Soviet-style societies brought about by declining morale, worsening economic conditions (a shortage economy), and the growing stresses of the Cold War.
After a brief period of economic boom, from 1975, the policies of the Polish government, led by Party First Secretary Edward Gierek, 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. On October 16, 1978, the Bishop of KrakÃ³w, Karol WojtyÅa, was elected Pope John Paul II. A year later, during his first pilgrimage to Poland, his masses were attended by millions of his countrymen. The Pope called for the respecting of national and religious traditions and advocated for freedom and human rights, while denouncing violence. 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 symboland supporterof changes to come. He was later to define the concept of solidarity in his Encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (December 30, 1987).
On July of 1980, the government of Edward Gierek, facing an economic crisis, decided to raise the prices while slowing the growth of the wages. A wave of strikes and factory occupations began at once. At the Lenin Shipyard in GdaÅsk, workers were outraged at the sacking of Anna Walentynowicz, a popular crane operator and well-known activist who became a spark that pushed them into action. The workers were led by electrician Lech WaÅÄsa, a former shipyard worker who had been dismissed in 1976, and who arrived at the shipyard on August 14. The strike committee demanded rehiring of Anna Walentynowicz and Lech WaÅÄsa, raising a monument to the casualties of 1970, respecting of workers rights and additional social demands.
By August 21, most of Poland was affected by the strikes, from coastal shipyards to the mines of the Upper Silesian Industrial Area. Thanks to popular support within Poland, as well as to international support and media coverage, the GdaÅsk workers held out until the government gave in to their demands. Though concerned with labor union matters, the GdaÅsk agreement enabled citizens to introduce democratic changes within the communist political structure and was regarded as a first step toward dismantling the Partys monopoly of power. Lech Walesa received by Pope John Paul II in the Vatican in January 1981.
Buoyed by the success of the strike, on the September 17, the representatives of Polish workers, including Lech WaÅÄsa, formed a nationwide trade union, Solidarity (NiezaleÅ¼ny SamorzÄ dny ZwiÄ zek Zawodowy SolidarnoÅÄ). On December 16, 1980, the Monument to fallen Shipyard Workers was unveiled. On January 15, 1981, a delegation from Solidarity, including Lech WaÅÄsa, met Pope John Paul II in Rome. Between September 5 and 10 and September 26 to October 7, the first national congress of Solidarity was held, and Lech WaÅÄsa was elected its president. In the meantime Solidarity transformed from a trade union into a social movement.
Over the next 500 days following the GdaÅsk Agreement, 9 to 10 million workers, intellectuals, and students joined it or its sub-organizations. It was the first and only recorded time in the history that a quarter of a countrys population have voluntarily joined a single organization. History has taught us that there is no bread without freedom, the Solidarity program stated a year later. What we had in mind were not only bread, butter, and sausage but also justice, democracy, truth, legality, human dignity, freedom of convictions, and the repair of the republic. Using strikes and other protest actions, Solidarity sought to force a change in the governmental policies. At the same time it was careful to never use force or violence, to avoid giving the government any excuse to bring the security forces into play. Solidaritys influence led to the intensification and spread of anti-communist ideals and movements throughout the countries of the Eastern Bloc, weakening their communist governments.
In 1983, Lech WaÅÄsa received the Nobel Prize for Peace, but the Polish government refused to issue him a passport and allow him to leave the country. Finally, Roundtable Talks between the weakened Polish government and Solidarity-led opposition led to semi-free elections in 1989. By the end of August, a Solidarity-led coalition government was formed, and in December, Lech WaÅÄsa was elected president.
Any comments on this civil disobedience?
I have to dig out my Thoreau pamphlet...