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The Solidarity Phenomenon

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Solidarity is a Polish trade union federation founded in September 1980 at the then Lenin Shipyards, and originally led by Lech Wałęsa. In the 1980s it constituted a broad anti-communist social movement. The government attempted to destroy the union with the martial law of 1981 and several years of repressions, but in the end it had to start negotiating with the union. In Poland, the Roundtable Talks between the weakened government and Solidarity-led opposition led to semi-free elections in 1989.

Solidarity GdanskTo make a review of the events which initiated the changes in Poland and thereafter in Central and Eastern Europe we should go back to 1980. In August of that year as a result of Polish working people's strikes and their need, the trade union "Solidarnosc" was born. The strikers were fully convinced of the need for free trade unions, formed and functioning in accordance with international labour standards and hereby independent of the state and the ruling party, to exist.

By virtue of the Agreements signed in August 1980, the state authorities recognised the workers' right to establish a trade union of their own choosing. At the same time, "Solidarnosc" became a huge social and political movement, representing the Polish nation's aspirations for freedom, democracy and better living conditions.

It is certain that the imposition of Martial Law in December, 1981 and the detention of several thousand of its leaders, members and sympathisers resulted in the suspension of the union's activity and its aspirations in making reforms, however the union continued to exist. Its organisational structure was adjusted to new, clandestine conditions. Based on these re-built clandestine structures and given unprecedented support by the Polish society, "Solidarnosc" was able to conduct protest actions on a wide scale.

In place of the mass Solidarity movement grew a vibrant group of underground publishers and activists. In late 1982, Solidarity was weak and disorientated. With things apparently under control, the government began to relax martial law. Lech Walesa was released from prison.

In Poland, the Roundtable Talks between the weakened 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 Wałęsa was elected president. Since 1989 Solidarity has become a more traditional trade union, and had relatively little impact on the political scene of Poland in the early 1990s.

Now the NSZZ Solidarnosc represents 1.185.000 workers, what is 7,6% of the total work force in Poland (total number of employed 15.900 thousand in 1998). In 1986 the NSZZ Solidarnosc was affiliated to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions as well as to the World Confederation of Labour. Since 1995 is one of affiliates of the European Trade Union Confederation and since 1997 to the Trade Union Advisory Committee to OECD.

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