Solidarity: A Peaceful Revolution

The August 1980 Phenomenon in Poland

After World War II, Poland found itself in the USSR’s communist sphere of influence. Separated from the Western world by the Iron Curtain, it struggled not only with the absence of democracy but also with constant supply shortages and price rises. In the summer of 1980, a wave of protests over an increase in meat and cured meat prices swept across the nation. On 14 August, a sit-in strike broke out in Gdańsk Lenin Shipyard, one of the largest production plants in Poland. The first demand was to reinstate Anna Walentynowicz, a gantry crane operator and oppositionist, to her job at the Shipyard. Delegations from enterprises all over the country began to join the protest, with nearly 800 of them at the key point. The Inter-Enterprise Strike Committee was established. 21 Demands were written down. Firstly and most importantly, trade unions were established, independent of the authorities and the employers. On Day 8 of the strike, the Deputy Prime Minister came to the protesters and negotiations began. On 31 August, the Gdańsk Agreement was signed.

The social phenomenon of Poland’s August events was that for the first time citizens took matters into their own hands behind the Iron Curtain: peacefully, they sat down with the authorities to talk at a table; universally, strikes covered the entire country; effectively, the agreement was concluded and the dreams of freedom could no longer be taken away, despite the retaliation from the authorities, who introduced martial law on 13 December 1981 and interned the oppositionists. The August Agreement resulted in the democratic change of the system in Poland and, subsequently, in the entire Eastern Bloc.