BBC Online Network
The birth of Solidarity
In the summer of 1980, government-imposed measures caused prices to soar and the growth of wages to slow. At the Lenin shipyard in Gdansk, workers were outraged but reluctant to strike. The sacking of Anna Walentynowicz, a popular crane operator and well-known activist, pushed them into action.

On 14 August, the shipyard workers began their strike. They were led by Lech Walesa, a former shipyard worker who had been dismissed in 1976 for stirring up trouble and demanding higher pay. Within days, about 200 factories had joined the strike committee. As a group, they set out 21 demands, including the right to have an independent trade union and the right to strike.

The workers' resolve was so strong that the government was forced to concede the right to strike. The acceptance of other demands was formalised in the Gdansk agreement, also known as the Social Accords.

Buoyed by the success of the strike, Lech Walesa formed a trade union, Solidarity (Solidarnoa). Over the next 500 days, 10 million workers, intellectuals and students joined. "History has taught us that there is no bread without freedom," the Solidarity programme stated a year later. "What we had in mind were not only bread, butter and sausage but also justice, democracy, truth, legality, human dignity, freedom of convictions, and the repair of the republic."

Jacek Merkel

Lech Walesa