How freedom and democracy broke out at a Polish shipyard, ten years before the fall of communism.
#stories from the eastern west
In August 1980, after the firing of popular shipyard worker, Anna Walentynowicz, a strike broke out at the Vladimir Lenin Shipyard in Gdańsk. Suddenly this massive complex on the Polish coast, with 16,000 employees and of huge strategic importance for the Polish economy, was under worker occupation, and every day other workplaces in Gdańsk and around the country started joining in.
Very soon the communist leadership in Warsaw realised that this wasn't just another strike they could snuff out with promised pay rises, or indeed by force. As for the shipyard workers, they realised that this was a chance to force the government to accept something they had long been fighting for… trade unions that were independent from the state, and run by the workers themselves…
So who exactly was Anna Walentynowicz and how did her firing provoke a strike that took hold of the country? Why did Henryka Krzywonos stop her tram on a busy intersection in Gdańsk? How did a shipyard become a focal point for the battle for freedom and democracy? Did the strikers ultimately get what they were fighting for?
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[01:02] 1980s Poland: a country on the verge of a revolution
[05:09] The strike starts at the shipyard...
[07:19] ...and spreads to other workplaces in Gdańsk
[12:10] How it looked from the other side of the fence
[13:39] The strike becomes a country-wide protest
[17:05] The protesters meet with the government delegation
[22:00] The Gdańsk Agreement is signed
[23:45] 'Solidarity' is founded by members of the Inter-Enterprise Strike Committee
- Who is Anna Walentynowicz? // an hour-long documentary about Anna Walentynowicz and the 1980 strikes (Polish/German with English subtitles)
- Robotnicy 1980 // a documentary about the strikes and negotiations at the Gdańsk shipyard (Polish only)
Written & produced by Piotr Wołodźko
Edited by Wojtek Oleksiak & Adam Zulawski
Hosted by Nitzan Reisner, Adam Zulawski
Scoring & sound design by Wojciech Oleksiak
Many thanks to Joanna Duda-Gwiazda and Andrzej Gwiazda, Henryka Krzywonos, Andrzej Maślankiewicz, Halina Lewna and everybody else we spoke to along the way during the making of this episode.
And a special thanks to Anna Miler from the Arteria Association and Metropolitanka Group in Gdańsk, for her knowledge and assistance.
european solidarity centre
Also be sure to check out our special mini-series on the democratic revolutions of 1989: The Final Curtain. You can also find it in our feed.