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1980: Shipyard Poles strike for their rights

VIDEO : A mass walk out in protest for change

Shipyard workers in Gdansk, Poland, have staged a successful strike in protest over the dismissal of militant crane driver Anna Walentinowicz.

The strike at the Lenin shipyard is seen as part of a growing campaign to gain political freedoms and to improve economic conditions for Poland's labour force.

Numbering some 16,000, the workers secured Miss Walentinowicz's swift reinstatement and then elected her to the workers' committee, which negotiates with the Polish authorities and shipyard management.

Today the committee won a number of political and economic concessions, including the promise of more accurate media coverage of the industrial unrest that has beset the country over the summer.

Workers are also demanding the right to form their own genuine representative bodies instead of subscribing to official trade unions.

Police Brutality

The Gdansk region has a history of strike action to secure greater freedoms. In 1970, rioting shipyard workers forced the incumbent Communist Party leader, Wladyslaw Gomulka, out of office.

Today the shipyard workers have persuaded the authorities to erect a monument in memory of those who died during the 1970 police brutality.

The workers' key economic demands include a pay rise of 40% and family allowances equal to those enjoyed by members of Poland's security forces.

There have been reports that the current party leader, Edward Gierek, was recently blamed for the unrest by a Warsaw party committee. Mr Gierek has yet to return from a holiday in the Soviet Union.

Tonight Polish television appealed for calm and "level-headedness" in its first mention of "work stoppages" since the strikes began in June.

In Context
Edward Gierek, like his predecessor, had his political reputation ruined by the Gdansk-led labour unrest, and subsequently resigned.

Poland's bid for political and social freedom grew out of strong co-operation between workers, intellectuals and its Roman Catholic Church, who worked together to spread information and resist the communist regime.

The reinstatement of Anna Walentinowicz brought only a temporary halt to the unrest. Stoppages continued until the government finally caved in and agreed to recognise the right of independent trade unions with a deal signed on 31 August.

In September 1980 Solidarity (Solidarnosc) was formed, the workers' first independent trade union, led by shipyard electrician Lech Walesa.


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