Solidarity (Polish trade union)

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Solidarity (Polish: Solidarność, pronounced [sɔliˈdarnɔɕt͡ɕ] ( listen); full name: Independent Self-governing Labour Union "Solidarity"Niezależny Samorządny Związek Zawodowy „Solidarność” [ɲezaˈlɛʐnɨ samɔˈʐɔndnɨ ˈzvjɔ̃zɛk zavɔˈdɔvɨ sɔliˈdarnɔɕt͡ɕ]) is a Polish labour union that was founded on 17 September 1980 at the Lenin Shipyard under the leadership of Lech Wałęsa.[1] It was the first trade union in a Warsaw Pact country that was not controlled by a communist party. Its membership reached 9.5 million members before its September 1981 Congress (when it reached 10 million),[2][3] which constituted one third of the total working-age population of Poland.[4]

In the 1980s, Solidarity was a broad anti-bureaucratic social movement, using the methods of civil resistance to advance the causes of workers' rights and social change.[5] The government attempted to destroy the union by imposing martial law in Poland, which lasted from December 1981 to July 1983 and was followed by several years of political repression from 8 October 1982, but in the end it was forced to negotiate with Solidarity. In the union's clandestine years, Pope Saint John Paul II and the United States provided significant financial support, estimated to be as much as 50 million US dollars.[6]

The round table talks between the government and the Solidarity-led opposition led to semi-free elections in 1989. By the end of August, a Solidarity-led coalition government was formed. In December 1990, Wałęsa was elected President of Poland. Since then Solidarity has become a more traditional, liberal trade union. Its membership had dropped to 680,000 by 2010[3] and 400,000 by 2011.[2]

Solidarity (Polish trade union) (logo)
Full name Independent Self-governing Trade Union "Solidarity"
Native name Niezależny Samorządny Związek Zawodowy „Solidarność”
Founded 17 September 1980[1]
Members Almost 10 million at the end of the first year; over 400,000 in 2011[2] (680,000 in 2010)[3]
Affiliation ITUC, ETUC, TUAC
Key people Anna Walentynowicz, Lech Wałęsa, Piotr Duda
Office location Gdańsk, Poland
Country Poland
Website (in English)


In the 1970s Poland's government raised food prices while wages stagnated. This and other stresses led to the June 1976 protests and subsequent government crackdown on dissent. The KOR, the ROPCIO, and other groups began to form underground networks to monitor and oppose the government's behavior. Labour unions formed an important part of this network.[7]

In 1979, the Polish economy shrank for the first time since World War II by 2 percent. The foreign debt reached around $18 billion by 1980.[8]

For participation in the illegal trade union, Anna Walentynowicz was fired from work at the Gdańsk Shipyard on 7 August 1980, 5 months before she was due to retire. This management decision enraged the workers of the Shipyard, who staged a strike action on 14 August defending Anna Walentynowicz and demanding her return. Anna Waletynowicz and Alina Pienkowska transformed a strike over bread and butter issues into a solidarity strike in sympathy with strikes on other establishments.

Solidarity emerged on 31 August 1980 in Gdańsk at the Lenin Shipyards when the communist government of Poland signed the agreement allowing for its existence. On 17 September 1980, over 20 Inter-factory Founding Committees of free trade unions merged at the congress into one national organization NSZZ Solidarity.[4] It officially registered on 10 November 1980.[9]

Wałęsa and others formed a broad anti-Soviet social movement ranging from people associated with the Catholic Church[10] to members of the anti-Soviet left. Solidarity advocated non-violence in its members' activities.[11][12] In September 1981 Solidarity's first national congress elected Wałęsa as a president[9] and adopted a republican program, the "Self-governing Republic".[13] The government attempted to destroy the union with the martial law of 1981 and several years of repression, but in the end it had to start negotiating with the union.

In Poland, the Roundtable Talks between the 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 Tadeusz Mazowiecki was elected Prime Minister. 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. A political arm founded in 1996 as Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) won the parliamentary election in 1997, but lost the following 2001 election. Currently, as a political party Solidarity has little influence on modern Polish politics.

CIA covert support

Unlike the Carter Administration, the Reagan policies supported the Solidarity movement in Poland, and—based on CIA intelligence—waged a public relations campaign to deter what the Carter administration felt was "an imminent move by large Soviet military forces into Poland."[14] Michael Reisman from Yale Law School named operations in Poland as one of the covert actions of CIA during Cold War.[15] Colonel Ryszard Kukliński, a senior officer on the Polish General Staff was secretly sending reports to the CIA.[16] The CIA transferred around $2 million yearly in cash to Solidarity, for a total of $10 million over five years. There were no direct links between the CIA and Solidarnosc, and all money was channeled through third parties.[17] CIA officers were barred from meeting Solidarity leaders, and the CIA's contacts with Solidarnosc activists were weaker than those of the AFL-CIO, which raised $300,000 from its members, which were used to provide material and cash directly to Solidarity, with no control of Solidarity's use of it. The U.S. Congress authorized the National Endowment for Democracy to promote democracy, and the NED allocated $10 million to Solidarity.[18]

When the Polish government launched martial law in December 1981, however, Solidarity was not alerted. Potential explanations for this vary; some believe that the CIA was caught off guard, while others suggest that American policy-makers viewed an internal crackdown as preferable to an "inevitable Soviet intervention."[19] CIA support for Solidarity included money, equipment and training, which was coordinated by Special Operations.[20] Henry Hyde, U.S. House intelligence committee member, stated that the USA provided "supplies and technical assistance in terms of clandestine newspapers, broadcasting, propaganda, money, organizational help and advice".[21] Initial funds for covert actions by CIA were $2 million, but soon after authorization were increased and by 1985 CIA successfully infiltrated Poland.[22]

Catholic social teaching

Ostrowiec Solidarnosc 20100815
30-years of Solidarity mural in Ostrowiec Świętokrzyski (priest Jerzy Popiełuszko in foreground)

In Sollicitudo rei socialis, a major document of Catholic Social Teaching, Pope John Paul II identifies the concept of solidarity with the poor and marginalized as a constitutive element of the Gospel and human participation in the common good. The Roman Catholic Church, under the leadership of Pope John Paul II, was a very powerful supporter of the union and was greatly responsible for its success. Wałęsa, who himself publicly displayed Catholic piety, confirmed the Pope's influence, saying: "The Holy Father, through his meetings, demonstrated how numerous we were. He told us not to be afraid."[23]

In addition, the priest Jerzy Popiełuszko, who regularly gave sermons to the striking workers, was eventually killed by the Communist regime for his association with Solidarity. Polish workers themselves were closely associated with the Church, which can be seen in the photographs taken during strikes in the 1980s. On the walls of several factories, portraits of the Virgin Mary or John Paul II were visible.

In 2017, Solidarity backed a proposal to instate blue laws that would prohibit Sunday shopping, a move supported by Polish bishops.[24]

A 2018 new Polish law banning almost all trade on Sundays has taken effect, with large supermarkets and most other retailers closed for the first time since liberal shopping laws were introduced in the 1990s. The Law and Justice party, whose lawmakers passed the legislation with the support of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.[25][26][27][28]

Influence abroad

A T-55 on V%C3%A1clavsk%C3%A9 n%C3%A1m%C4%9Bst%C3%AD, Prague
The logo of Solidarność painted on an overturned Soviet era T-55 in Prague in 1990
Solidarity petition, Edinburgh
Students in Scotland collect signatures for a petition in support of Solidarity in 1981
ETUC, Solidarity Trade Union - Budapest, 2011 (2)
Solidarity, ETUC Demonstration—Budapest 2011

The survival of Solidarity was an unprecedented event not only in Poland, a satellite state of the USSR ruled (in practice) by a one-party Communist regime, but the whole of the Eastern bloc. It meant a break in the hard-line stance of the communist Polish United Workers' Party, which had bloodily ended a 1970 protest with machine gun fire (killing dozens and injuring over 1,000), and the broader Soviet communist regime in the Eastern Bloc, which had quelled both the 1956 Hungarian Uprising and the 1968 Prague Spring with Soviet-led invasions.

Solidarity's influence led to the intensification and spread of anti-communist ideals and movements throughout the countries of the Eastern Bloc, weakening their communist governments. As a result of the Round Table Agreement between the Polish government and the Solidarity-led opposition, elections were held in Poland on 4 June 1989, in which the opposition were allowed to field candidates against the Communist Party—the first free elections in any Soviet bloc country. A new upper chamber (the Senate) was created in the Polish parliament and all of its 100 seats were contestable in the election, as well as one third of the seats in the more important lower chamber (the Sejm). Solidarity won 99 of the 100 Senate seats and all 161 contestable seats in the Sejm—a victory that also triggered a chain reaction across the Soviet Union’s satellite states, leading to almost entirely peaceful anti-communist revolutions in Central and Eastern Europe[10] known as the Revolutions of 1989 (Jesień Ludów or Wiosna Obywatelów), which ended in the overthrow of each Moscow-imposed regime, and ultimately to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

Given the union's support from many western governments, relations with trade unions in capitalist countries could be complicated. For example, during the UK miners' strike of 1984-85, Wałęsa said that "The miners should fight, but with common sense—not with destruction" and said of Margaret Thatcher "With such a wise and brave woman, Britain will find a solution to the strike." However, David Jastrzębski, the president of Upper Silesia Solidarity, voiced his support of the striking miners: "Neither the British government’s mounted police charges nor its truncheon blows, any more than the Polish junta’s tanks or rifle fire, can break our common will to struggle for a better future for the working class."[29] This was despite the fact that Arthur Scargill, president of the British National Union of Mineworkers had been highly critical of Solidarity, condemning it as an "anti-socialist organization which desires the overthrow of a socialist state".[30]

In late 2008, several democratic opposition groups in the Russian Federation formed a Solidarity movement.[31]

In the United States, the American Solidarity Party (formerly the Christian Democratic Party USA), a Christian democratic political party, attributes its namesake to Solidarity.[32]

Secular philosophical underpinnings

Although Leszek Kołakowski's works were officially banned in Poland and he lived outside the country from the late 1960s, the philosopher's ideas nonetheless exerted an influence on the Solidarity movement. Underground copies of his books and essays shaped the opinions of the Polish intellectual opposition. His 1971 essay Theses on Hope and Hopelessness, which suggested that self-organized social groups could gradually expand the spheres of civil society in a totalitarian state, helped inspire the dissident movements of the 1970s that led to the creation of Solidarity and provided a philosophical underpinning for the movement.

Kołakowski later described Solidarity as "perhaps [the] closest to the working class revolution" that Karl Marx had predicted in the mid-1800s. Ironically, however, Solidarity featured many elements contrary to socialism as conceived by Marx: "[workers organized] against the exploiters, that is to say, the state. And this solitary example of a working class revolution (if even this may be counted) was directed against a socialist state, and carried out under the sign of the cross, with the blessing of the Pope."[33]


The union was officially founded on 17 September 1980,[1] the union's supreme powers were vested in a legislative body, the Convention of Delegates (Zjazd Delegatów). The executive branch was the National Coordinating Commission (Krajowa Komisja Porozumiewawcza), later renamed the National Commission (Komisja Krajowa). The Union had a regional structure, comprising 38 regions (region) and two districts (okręg). At its highest, the Union had over 10 million members, which became the largest union membership in the world. During the communist era the 38 regional delegates were arrested and jailed when martial law came into effect on 13 December 1981 under General Wojciech Jaruzelski. After a one-year prison term the high-ranking members of the union were offered one way trips to any country accepting them (including Canada, the United States, and nations in the Middle East).

Solidarity was organized as an industrial union, or more specifically according to the One Big Union principle, along the lines of the Industrial Workers of the World and the Spanish Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (workers in every trade were organized by region, rather than by craft).[34]

In 2010, Solidarity had more than 400,000 members.[2] National Commission of Independent Self-Governing Trade Union is located in Gdańsk and is composed of Delegates from Regional General Congresses.

Regional structure

Solidarity is divided into 37 regions, and the territorial structure to a large degree reflects the shape of Polish voivodeships, established in 1975 and annulled in 1998 (see: Administrative division of People's Republic of Poland). The regions are:

Network of key factories

The network of Solidarity branches of the key factories of Poland was created on 14 April 1981 in Gdańsk. It was made of representatives of seventeen factories; each stood for the most important factory of every voivodeship of the pre-1975 Poland (see: Administrative division of People's Republic of Poland). However, there were two exceptions. There was no representative of the Koszalin Voivodeship, and the Katowice Voivodeship was represented by two factories:

Voivodeship Represented by
Gdańsk Vladimir Lenin Shipyard in Gdańsk
Szczecin Szczecin Shipyard
Poznań H. Cegielski - Poznań S.A.
Bydgoszcz Rail Vehicles Repair Shop
Zielona Góra Rolling Stock and Steel Works Zastal in Zielona Góra
Katowice Wujek Coal Mine in Katowice
The Spare Parts Factory Zgoda in Świętochłowice
Koszalin No representative
Kraków Vladimir Lenin Steelworks in Nowa Huta
Wrocław Rail Carriage Factory Pafawag in Wrocław
Rzeszów Factory of Communication Equipment WSK in Rzeszów
Białystok Cotton Works Fasty in Białystok
Kielce Ball Bearings Factory Iskra in Kielce
Olsztyn Tire Company Stomil in Olsztyn
Lublin Factory of Communication Equipment PZL in Świdnik
Łódź Julian Marchlewski Cotton Works in Łódź
Warsaw Ursus Factory in Warsaw
Opole Malapanew Steelworks in Ozimek


See also


  1. ^ a b c Guardian newspaper report Retrieved 22 June 2009
  2. ^ a b c d (in Polish) 30 lat po Sierpniu'80: "Solidarność zakładnikiem własnej historii" Archived 29 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on 7 June 2011
  3. ^ a b c (in Polish) Duda za Śniadka? by Maciej Sandecki and Marek Wąs, Gazeta Wyborcza of 24 August 2010
  4. ^ a b (in Polish) „Solidarność" a systemowe przekształcenia Europy Środkowo-Wschodniej Archived 7 August 2013 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on 7 June 2011
  5. ^ Aleksander Smolar, '"Self-limiting Revolution": Poland 1970-89', in Adam Roberts and Timothy Garton Ash (eds.), Civil Resistance and Power Politics: The Experience of Non-violent Action from Gandhi to the Present, Oxford University Press, 2009, ISBN 978-0-19-955201-6, pp. 127-43.
  6. ^ Tony Judt (2005). Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945. The Penguin Press. p. 589.
  7. ^ KOR: a history of the Workers’ Defense Committee in Poland, 1976-1981. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1985. ISBN 0-520-05243-9.
  8. ^ From Solidarity to Martial Law: The Polish Crisis of 1980-1981 : A Documentary History by Andrzej Paczkowski, Malcolm Byrne. Central European University Press, Budapest 2007. p. xxix
  9. ^ a b (in Polish) Solidarność, wielopłaszczyznowy ruch na rzecz demokratyzacji i głębokich reform ustrojowych PRL Retrieved on 7 June 2011
  10. ^ a b Steger, Manfred B (January 2004). Judging Nonviolence: The Dispute Between Realists and Idealists (ebook). Routledge (UK). p. 114. ISBN 0-415-93397-8. Retrieved 9 July 2006.
  11. ^ Paul Wehr; Guy Burgess; Heidi Burgess, eds. (February 1993). Justice Without Violence (ebook). Lynne Rienner Publishers. p. 28. ISBN 1-55587-491-6. Retrieved 6 July 2006.
  12. ^ Cavanaugh-O'Keefe, John (January 2001). Emmanuel, Solidarity: God's Act, Our Response (ebook). Xlibris Corporation. p. 68. ISBN 0-7388-3864-0. Retrieved 6 July 2006.
  13. ^ Piotr Gliński, The Self-governing Republic in the Third Republic, "Polish Sociological Review", 2006, no.1
  14. ^ Douglas J. MacEachin. "US Intelligence and the Polish Crisis 1980-1981".
  15. ^ Looking to the Future: Essays on International Law in Honor of W. Michael Reisman
  16. ^ Richard T. Davies, "The CIA and the Polish Crisis of 1980–1981." Journal of Cold War Studies (2004) 6#3 pp: 120-123. online
  17. ^ Gregory F. Domber (2008). Supporting the Revolution: America, Democracy, and the End of the Cold War in Poland, 1981--1989. ProQuest. p. 199., revised as Domber 2014, p. 110 [1].
  18. ^ Domber, Gregory F. (28 August 2014), What Putin Misunderstands about American Power, University of California Press Blog, University of North Carolina Press
  19. ^ MacEachin, Douglas J. "US Intelligence and the Polish Crisis 1980–1981." CIA. June 28, 2008.
  20. ^ Cover Story: The Holy Alliance By Carl Bernstein Sunday, June 24, 2001
  21. ^ Branding Democracy: U.S. Regime Change in Post-Soviet Eastern Europe Gerald Sussman, page 128
  22. ^ Executive Secrets: Covert Action and the Presidency William J. Daugherty. page 201-203
  23. ^ Repa, Jan (August 12, 2005). "Analysis: Solidarity's legacy". BBC News. Retrieved 2017-01-29.
  24. ^ "Polish bishops for total ban on Sunday shopping". BBC. 23 August 2017. Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^,Stores-closed-as-Poland-phases-out-Sunday-shopping
  29. ^ "Workers unite, east and west!". Workers' Liberty. Alliance for Workers' Liberty. 2009-10-08. Retrieved 2017-01-29.
  30. ^ McKinlay, John (8 September 1983). "Scargill angers unions with Solidarity attack". The Glasgow Herald. Retrieved 1 September 2014.
  31. ^ Kasparov starts new Russian opposition movement. The Associated Press. 13 December 2008.
  32. ^ Gehrz, Chris (16 August 2016). "Could the U.S. Finally Get a Significant Christian Democratic Party?". Patheos. Retrieved 16 August 2016. The nominees of the American Solidarity Party (ASP), which takes its name from the Polish movement of the late Cold War and calls itself "the only active Christian Democratic party in the United States."
  33. ^ Leszek Kołakowski. What Is Left of Socialism. First Things, October 2002
  34. ^ (in Polish) Solidarność NSZZ in WIEM Encyklopedia. Last accessed on 10 October 2006

Further reading

  • Domber, Gregory G. (2016). Empowering Revolution: America, Poland, and the End of the Cold War. Dodd Mead. ISBN 978-1469629810.
  • Eringer, Robert (1982). Strike for Freedom: The Story of Lech Wałęsa and Polish Solidarity. The University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0-396-08065-0.
  • Goddeeris, Idesbald (2002). The Polish Revolution: Solidarity. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-09568-6.
  • Garton Ash, Timothy (2012). Solidarity with Solidarity: Western European Trade Unions and the Polish Crisis, 1980–1982. Lexington Books. ISBN 978-0739150719.
  • Kaminski, Marek M. (2004). Games Prisoners Play. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-11721-7.
  • Kenney, Patrick (2003). A Carnival of Revolution : Central Europe 1989. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-11627-X.
  • Kenney, Patrick (2006). The Burdens of Freedom. Zed Books Ltd. ISBN 1-84277-662-2.
  • Kubik, Jan (1994). The Power of Symbols Against the Symbols of Power: The rise of Solidarity and the fall of state socialism in Poland. The Pennsylvania State University. ISBN 0-271-01084-3.
  • Ledger, Robert. "From Solidarity to ‘Shock Therapy’. British Foreign Policy Towards Poland Under the Thatcher Government, 1980–1990." Contemporary British History 30#1 (2016): 99-118.
  • Matynia, Elzbieta (2009). Performative Democracy. Paradigm. ISBN 1594516561.
  • Osa, Maryjane (2003). Solidarity and Contention: Networks of Polish Opposition. University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 0-8166-3874-8.
  • Ost, David (2005). The Defeat Of Solidarity: Anger and Politics in Postcommunist Europe (ebook). Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-4318-0.
  • Penn, Shana (2005). Solidarity's Secret : The Women Who Defeated Communism in Poland. University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0-472-11385-2.
  • Perdue, William D. (1995). Paradox of Change: The Rise and Fall of Solidarity in the New Poland. Praeger/Greenwood. ISBN 0-275-95295-9.
  • Pope John Paul II, Sollicitudo rei socialis, on Vatican website
  • Staniszkis, Jadwiga (1984). Poland's Self-Limiting Revolution. Princeton University Press.
  • Smolar, Aleksander, '"Self-limiting Revolution": Poland 1970-89', in Adam Roberts and Timothy Garton Ash (eds.), Civil Resistance and Power Politics: The Experience of Non-violent Action from Gandhi to the Present, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. ISBN 978-0-19-955201-6.[2].
  • Szporer, Michael (2014). Solidarity: The Great Workers Strike of 1980. Lexington Books. ISBN 978-0739192801.
  • Weigel, George (1992). The Final Revolution: The Resistance Church and the Collapse of Communism. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-516664-7.

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