Solidarnosc – myth and sad reality

Solidarnosc was a mass movement expressing the desire for change, today it is close to conservatives

The Polish Solidarnosc, the first free trade union east of the Iron Curtain, which was born with so much hope, enthusiasm and, above all, jubilation, turns 30 these days. After the 31. August 1980 Lech Walesa together with Deputy Prime Minister Mieczyslaw Jagielski signed the Gdansk Agreement, striking workers carried Walesa on their shoulders. Like a victory trophy, the future Nobel Peace Prize winner and President held up the oversized ballpoint pen with which he had signed the agreement, and not without reason. With the Gdansk Agreement, the striking workers won not only higher wages and work-free Saturdays, but also the right to form independent trade unions in a state where the ruling party claimed to be the vanguard of the working class.

However, Solidarnosc was more than just a trade union. For many German and Western European leftists, Solidarnosc is only a result of the Cold War (a staircase joke in history), financed by money from the West "socialist government" has colported, but this is only a very small part of the truth. With its nearly 10 million members, Solidarnosc became a mass movement within a few weeks, representing a cross-section of Polish society. Catholics, atheists, workers, intellectuals, bourgeois, social democrats, even about 1. million members of the then ruling Polish United Workers Party, which at the time had over 3 million party members, enrolled in Solidarnosc.

Lech Walesa (2009). Image: MEDEF. License: CC-BY-SA-2.0

What united them was the desire for political change. They suffered from the miserable economic situation, which was a result of the mismanagement of the then Secretary General Edward Gierek, and the political paternalism of the PVAP, which had shown the Poles how to deal with demonstrators in the years before. It put down the workers’ protests of 1956 and 1970 by force of arms. She used the student protests of March 1968 for an anti-Semitic campaign (Of Anti-Zionists and Anti-Semites).

Because of its membership and its demands – it is hard to believe today, but the union called for the creation of workers’ councils to control factories – Solidarnosc grew into a force that brought the communist regime to its knees almost a year after its founding. Only with the proclamation of martial law on 13. December 1981 the then Prime Minister and Chief of General Staff Wojciech Jaruzelski was able to stop the revolution.

Solidarnosc - myth and sad reality

Round table in Warsaw, 6. February to 4. April 1989

Jaruzelski prevented the political turnaround with the "smaller ubel", with which he had also pre-empted a Soviet intervention (The Old General’s Last War), as he claims to this day, but was not. In 1989 he negotiated with Lech Walesa, Adam Michnik and other prominent Solidarnosc representatives at the Round Table. The result was a semi-democratic election in June of the same year, from which the opposition member Tadeusz Mazowiecki emerged as the head of government and which signaled the end of the People’s Republic. As early as January 1990, the Polish United Workers’ Party broke up.

With the downfall of the former enemy, the downfall of the Solidarnosc movement also began

The first fractures between the rank and file and Solidarnosc leaders could be observed after the end of martial law in 1983, when the heads of the movement were released from internment, but after 1990 the different political views that came together under the umbrella of Solidarnosc finally emerged. As historian Jerzy Holzer put it in his book Solidarity, published back in 1983 in Underground. The History of the First Free Trade Union in Poland.

In 1997, bourgeois and conservative forces, under the name of "Solidarity Election Campaign" attempted to make a political comeback under the name Solidarnosc, but it was only the name and the disassociation from the post-communist government that brought the electoral alliance of almost 50 groups victory in the parliamentary elections. In spite of internal party disputes, splits and scandals, Solidarnosc had become the most important party in the country "Election campaign Solidarnosc" not much else to offer.

What remains of the August 1980 strikes and Solidarity, however, is the socio-political myth on which today’s Poland is based. "The Americans have their Statue of Liberty. But we, too, have a great and invisible symbol of freedom. Our Statue of Liberty are the harbor and shipyard cranes, which can be seen from afar and which testify to the fact that we have been able to raise Poland and free it from all that hurts and worries. From all the worries of the Polish state and a common man." With these words this weekend the new President of the Republic Bronis?aw Komorowski honored the founding and achievements of Solidarnosc.

But perhaps without intending to do so, Komorowski paid homage with the "We" also paid homage to the country’s current political elite. With the exception of the representatives of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), which has its origins in the Polish United Workers’ Party, almost all of the country’s important politicians began their careers in Solidarnosc. Komorowski himself, Prime Minister Donald Tusk, Senate President Bogdan Borusewicz or the twins Jaroslaw and Lech Kaczynski are only a few of the well-known names who have had and still have influence on political events in today’s Poland. A past they are all proud of and like to refer to in the election campaign.

Not much is left today of the former solidarity that the union carries in its name

The country is divided into two political currents, which refer to Solidarnosc, but whose results they interpret in opposite ways. While the liberals around Donald Tusk celebrate the Round Table of 1989 as a peaceful revolution and call the current republic not the perfect Poland, but the best Poland there ever was, the national conservative camp of the Kaczynskis has only one opinion: "It was not for such a Poland that we fought in Solidarnosc." The round table is for the national conservatives blob a furniture, where power-conscious actors have divided the power among themselves. And the current republic must quickly pass through the IV. Republic, in which former communists and Stasi informers like Lech Walesa alias "IM Bolek" (From the abuse of history), occupy the most important positions in politics and business.

And in the midst of this conflict of interpretation, today’s Solidarnosc is a powerful player. "Poland is divided. And as the organizer of the event I must be one hundred percent sure that the guest will be received befittingly. But I cannot guarantee this", said Piotr Duda, chairman of Solidarnosc in Upper Silesia, after it became known that President Komorowski was not invited to the celebrations in Jastrzebie Zdroj. "Unlike the politicians of the Burger Platform, who never called Lech Kaczynski their president, I call Komorowski my president, although I did not vote for him", Duda continued, making clear that today’s Solidarnosc is politically close to Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s Law and Justice (PiS) party.

Solidarnosc has become conservative

And just how rough Solidarity’s closeness to the national conservative party is was evident Monday at the union’s central anniversary event in Gdansk, which ended in a scandal. While Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who in his speech also suggested that influential Solidarnosc advisors wanted to capitulate to the communist government as early as August 1980 and could only be stopped by the efforts of his late brother, was buried with a standing ovation by the union members present, Bronislaw Komorowski and Prime Minister Tusk were booed mercilessly.

Solidarnosc - myth and sad reality

Memorial stele with the 21 demands of Solidarnosc in Gdansk

"The word Solidarity obliges. Here is television and our children will see all that we have fought for after 30 years – whistles, disrespect for people who fought for us there", the Solidarnosc legend Henryka Krzywonos Strycharska, who in August 1980 initiated the strike in the Gdansk public transport system as a tram driver, said to boos. She also accused Jaroslaw Kaczynski of destroying his brother’s ideals.

However, the political proximity to the PiS has had fatal consequences for the union. Solidarnosc, once so proud, now has only 400,000 members.000 members and represents the decline of the entire Polish trade union movement, in which just a quarter of today’s 10 million workers are organized – spread over a total of 6.300 trade unions.

Yet Poland has enough social problems to be a topic for the trade unions. Due to the economic crisis, unemployment in Poland has also risen to over 10 percent. Financial security for the unemployed is a joke compared to Germany. And in order to attract foreign investors to the country, the rights of Polish workers have been severely curtailed over the last two decades. What Poland needs today, therefore, is a new Solidarnosc, in which solidarity once again takes center stage.

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