Solidarity The Movement And It

Solidarity: The Movement And It’s Causes Essay, Research Paper

name = Lukasz Cholodecki

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publish = yes

subject = Modern European History 315

title = Solidarity: The Movement and It’s Causes

papers =


The Movement and It’s


History 315/515

Prof. Startt

Essay #2

The Solidarity movement in Poland was one of the most

dramatic developments in Eastern Europe during the Cold War. It

was not a movement that began in 1980, but rather a continuation

of a working class and Polish intelligentsia movement that began

in 1956, and continued in two other risings, in 1970 and 1976.

The most significant of these risings began in the shipyards of

the ‘Triple City’, Gdansk, Sopot and Gdynia in 1970. The first

and by far the most violent and bloody of the workers revolts

came in June of 1956, when at least 75 people died in the

industrial city of Poznan. The third uprising took place in

1976 with workers striking in Warsaw, and rioting in the city of


What made the Solidarity movement peaceful and far more

successful in comparison to that of the previous three? The

Solidarity movement originated in the working class, but unlike

the previous three risings it also worked with and was involved

with the Polish intellectual community. Was this the reason

behind its success? Or was it instead the result of the U.S.S.R.

losing it’s hold in the Eastern bloc, and the fledgling economy

of Poland that made such a movement inevitable? While everyone

of these points was a factor, the strongest and most compelling

argument can be made for the unification and working together of

Poland’s most influential social classes, the Polish

intelligentsia, the workers, and the Church. This strategy

eventually led to the infamous ’roundtable’ talks, and the

collapse of communism itself in Poland.

The Beginnings of a Movement

The ‘Polish October’ of 1956 did not begin with Stalin’s

death in 1953, in fact Poland was quite calm, in stark contrast

with other Eastern bloc countries. While demonstrations took

place in Plzen, Czechoslovakia, and a revolt was taking place in

East Germany in mid-June, Poland was slow to follow the ‘New

Course’ that was being offered by neighboring countries. This

was a result of a much slower relaxation than the other countries

experienced. Regardless, social and intellectual unrest began

building up, with collectivization being slackened and censorship

showing cracks, the nation had a sense that a new start must be


The Polish intelligentsia was one of the most important

groups to emerge during this period. The Polish intelligentsia

is, and remains, a distinct social class that is composed of

those with a higher education, or those who at least share

similar tastes. The Polish intelligentsia originates in the

nineteenth-century, when Polish nobility moved to the cities to

occupy itself with literature, art, and revolutionary politics,

due to it’s loss of estates and land. This distinct social

group was feared and recognized by both Stalin and Hitler, 50

percent of Polish lawyers and doctors and 40 percent of Polish

university professors where murdered in World War II. The

reemergence of this group leading to the ‘Polish October’ is

significant in that it would play a crucial role 25 years later.

Unfortunately for Poland, the Polish intelligentsia and the

working class often led separate uprisings, and had trouble

connecting in the causes that they were fighting for.

Many events and reasons, many similar to that of 1980

culminated to the uprisings in October, and the crackdown that

followed. The focus has to be put primarily on the fact that it

was only in part a workers rebellion, because the workers’

movement in Poznan had no central structure or leadership. It

was instead a rebellion of the intelligentsia, which was in a

system that denied them access to the elite. The intelligentsia

did not put both movements together, the different social classes

were divided in what they wanted. It is incredulous that the

intelligentsia did not look to make a concerted effort with the

workers, as it would not do in 1970 or 1976.

The New Power

The following events were the prelude to 1980, and they are

tragic. On the twelfth of December 1970, a series of unexpected

price changes were announced. Consumer goods only rose a small

percentage in price, but certain foods had huge price increases.

Flour rose by sixteen percent, sugar rose by fourteen percent,

and meat cost seventeen percent more. On the next morning

three thousand workers from the Lenin shipyard at Gdansk marched

on the provincial party headquarters. The workers were ordered

back to work, the maddened workers incited a riot. With fires

started and stones thrown, the city militia could not hold the

masses back. On Tuesday, December fifteenth, the workers at the

Paris Commune Shipyard in Gdynia stopped work and demonstrated in

the main streets. A general strike was announced in Gdansk, and

the police opened fire on demonstrators. Men on both sides were

killed. In the fighting the Party building and the railway

station was burned down. The next day the rebellion spread to

the towns of Slupsk and Eblag, and the workers at the Warski

Shipyards in Szczecin were preparing to strike. Reports were

coming in of supportive strikes in other cities.

On Wednesday workers began occupation strikes in factories.

On Thursday morning, workers walking to the Paris Commune yard

were fired on, at least thirteen were killed. Later that day

workers from the Szczecin shipyard surged out into the city, and

street fighting, costing at least sixteen lives, continued

through Friday. By Saturday it appeared a nation-wide strike

would inssue. Twenty-one demands were drawn up by the workers,

one of which asked for ‘independent trade unions under the

authority of the working class’. Although this was not

achieved in 1970, it is apparent that this was clearly a marking

of a new era in the thought process of the Polish workers. The

course of action that Prime Minister Gomulka took cost him his

job, he was the one who ordered the use of fire arms against

workers. Brezhnev himself advised a political rather than a

military solution. Gomulka’s fate was sealed, and the reign of

Gierek ensued.

The movement was far from over, but the most important parts

had already happened. The lack of the Polish intelligentsia was

apparent in a face to face meeting with Gierek, and other party

officials, that the workers at the shipyards in Sczecin and

Gdansk had on the twenty-fourth of January, 1971. Gierek coerced

the workers to stop the strike by appealing himself as a Polish

patriot, and a man that wanted to keep Poland from collapse.

These workers’ neither had the thought nor the conceptualization

that a collapse could very well be what Poland needed. The

intellectuals could have done exactly what was done in 1980, the

opportunity was just as ripe, but it passed, and another

opportunity would not arise for another five years.

The government could do nothing but appeal to the workers to

help them out, otherwise more demands would have to have been met

by them. In mid-February, with uneasiness in the country, Gierek

restored the old prices. This was the first time a decision by a

communist government was overturned by the working class, the

class that theoretically was in power.

Although a larger victory could have been had, the workers

had no concept of overthrowing socialism, they merely wanted a

better socialism. In 1976 another price increase went into

affect, this time raising meat prices by sixty-nine percent, and

sugar prices by one hundred percent. With memories of the

successful 1970 campaign, on June twenty-fifth work stopped all

over the country. Almost immediately Gierek repealed the

increases. It was clear the working class had a lot of power,

power that it had not yet maximized. Power that the

intelligentsia was only beginning to see as a source for future

social change.


So far most of the work in revolutionizing Poland was done

by the workers. So where was the Polish intelligentsia that

seemed to disappear from the landscape after the 1950’s? It was

always there, but while it was respected by the workers, the

Polish intelligentsia had not worked very hard to unite itself

with them. A social split existed that made the intelligentsia

feel somewhat superior to the workers, feeling a change could

only be made by intellectuals at the top.

That view and feeling slowly changed, the biggest of these

changes in social thought appeared when the printings of illegal,

uncensored leaflets and books by a group of intellectuals calling

themselves the Committee for the Defense of Workers’ Rights (KOR)

and the Movement for the Defense of Civil and Citizens’ Rights

(ROPCiO) emerged. In September of 1979, a press briefing by the

Ministry of the Interior listed twenty-six ‘anti-socialist’

groups. These groups were not publicly denounced, but they were

open to beatings and imprisonment by the secret police. One of

the major events to occur in 1977 was an informal alliance

between the Catholic Church and the opposition. The Church

would be instrumental in uniting the cause of workers in the

Baltic to those in other regions of the country.

On the other side of the coin, Poland’s economy was

disastrous. In fact the national income fell by two percent in

1979. Industrial output was showing negative growth of five

percent. From having one of the highest growth rates in the

world, only five years later Poland had an economy in such

shambles that it was dependent on Western banks to keep

functioning. The time was perfect to strike.

On the fourteenth of August 1980 the members of a little

group called the Free Trade Union conspired to start a strike at

the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk, which employed 17,000 workers. The

pretext was so a crane driver named Anna Walentynowicz, would get

her job back after being fired. The reason behind this was that

she was one of the most powerful orator’s in the whole strike

movement. They had tried to start a strike a month before under

the pretext of a meat price increase, but they had failed. This

time they brought posters and leaflets, which they promptly put

up. They declared ‘We Demand the Reinstatement of Anna

Walentynowicz and a Cost of Living Rise of 1,000 Zlotys’.

Men quickly gathered around to read the signs and leaflets,

ignoring the party officials calls to go back to work. A mass

meeting formed at one of the gates. Klemens Gniech, the manager,

argued and pleaded the workers not to form a strike committee.

The meeting was starting to loose steam as some workers began to

go back to their jobs. At that moment, a man embittered by the

deaths of the strikes of 1970, maddened by being imprisoned over

one hundred times, stepped out. This was a man who was still

furious over being fired four years earlier from that very

shipyard, a man who had a keen understanding of the workers

struggles, he jumped up to the bulldozer roof and yelled at

Gniech “Remember me? I gave ten years to this shipyard. But you

sacked me four years ago!” His name was Lech Walesa. He

turned to the men and women below him and shouted that an

occupation strike would begin now. He was cheered loudly, and

soon they were asking for him to be reinstated also.

No one realized what this would set off. By the next day

strikes began to spread throughout the ‘Triple-City’. The

demands were far bigger now, even asking for the right to

establish free trade unions. The leaders began to negotiate with

Gniech, but what they had not realized was that the whole city

basically gone on strike. The strike committee agreed on a 1,500

zloty pay raise, and was ready to return to work. Walesa went

outside and announced the news, to his surprise he was jeered.

He had misread the mood. Instantaneously he changed his mind and

went around the shipyard pleading everyone to continue

striking. The strike continued and it spread. One of the

biggest developments in the history of Polish strikes and

uprisings happened soon after. Intellectuals came in to help out

the workers in drafting documents and demands. They began what

eventually led to the legalization of trade unions. They played

for the high stakes, they issued ultimatums that said that they

would not negotiate until all political prisoners were freed.

These were demands that previously would not have been made.

With both groups working together, both benefited. The

government, having no choice, complied. The rest, as they say,

is history.

The Solidarity Union would soon have ten million members,

one-third of the Polish workforce. The changes that ensued

promised the downfall of socialism in Poland. Although martial

law slowed down the process in 1981, Solidarity was working in

the underground. Solidarity forced the roundtable talks that led

to free elections in 1989, and the eventual fall of communism,

not only in Poland, but in all the Soviet bloc countries.

The work of the Polish worker, and that of the Polish

intellectual accomplished what many thought would never happen.

Poland is a country with a history of uprisings, all of which

failed, except for this one. No other movement connected the

Polish intelligentsia and the Polish worker. Would Polish

insurrections have worked earlier in history if this was also the

case? One can always second guess, but it is clear the changes

that occurred in Poland, occurred because of the intellectuals

working with the workers. They had the vision, the workers had

the mass to demand that vision to become a reality.



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