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For other uses, see Solidarity (disambiguation).


Solidarity (Polish Solidarność) is a Polish trade union federation founded in September 1980 at the Gdańsk Shipyards, originally led by Lech Wałęsa. In the 1980s, it gathered a broad anti-communist social movement ranging from people associated with the Catholic Church to members of the anti-communist Left. The union was backed by a group of intellectual dissidents - the Workers' Defence Committee or Komitet Obrony Robotników - KOR in Polish (formed in 1976). This was renamed the following year - Committee for Social Self-defence (KSS-KOR). Solidarity advocated nonviolence in its members activities.

The survival of the Solidarity was an unprecedented event not only in Poland, a satellite state of the USSR ruled by a (in practice) one-party Communist regime, but also in the whole Eastern bloc (Warsaw pact).

It meant a break in the hard-line stance of the Party which in another protest in 1970 had ended in bloodshed with dozens of people killed by machine gun fire and over 1,000 injured. In 1968, the Prague Spring was crushed by a Soviet-led invasion in the streets of the capital of Czechoslovakia.



Polish workers on strike, September 1980.
Polish workers on strike, September 1980.

The factors contributing to the initial success of Solidarity in particular, and dissident movements in general in the 1970s and 1980s, were deepening internal crisis of Soviet-style societies due to degradation of morale, worsening economic conditions and the impending defeat in the Cold War. (See Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and Collapse of the Soviet Union)

The ideas of the Solidarity movement spread very quickly throughout Poland; more and more new unions were formed and joined the federation (see Gdańsk Agreement). The program, although concerned with trade union matters, was universally regarded as the first step towards dismantling the Party monopoly.

"Rural Solidarity", a union of farmers, was created in May 1981. By the end of 1981, Solidarity had nine million members. Using strikes and other industrial action, the union sought to block government initiatives. On December 13, 1981, the government leader Wojciech Jaruzelski started a crack-down on Solidarity, declaring martial law, suspending the union, and temporarily imprisoning most of its leaders. Poland then banned Solidarity on October 8, 1982. Martial Law was formally lifted in July, 1983, though many heightened controls on civil liberties and political life, as well as food rationing, remained in place through the mid- to late 1980s.

Throughout the mid-1980s, Solidarity persisted solely as an underground organization, supported by the Church and the CIA. But by the late 1980s, Solidarity was sufficiently strong to frustrate Jaruzelski's attempts at reform, and nationwide strikes in 1988 forced the government to open a dialogue with Solidarity.

Many emigrés from Poland participated in Solidarity.

The End of the Cold War

In April 1989, Solidarity was legalized and allowed to participate in the upcoming elections. In these limited elections union candidates won a striking victory which sparked off a succession of peaceful anti-communist counterrevolutions in Central and Eastern Europe starting on June 4. By the end of August a Solidarity-led coalition government was formed and in December Wałęsa was elected president, resigning from his post in Solidarity.

Since then, the organization has become a more traditional trade union, but a political arm was founded in 1996 as Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) - now having a negligible political significance. Solidarity currently has around 1.5 million members.

See also

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