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September 1989, Vol. 112, No. 9
How Poland's Solidarity won freedom of association
Robert A. Senser
In the summer of 1980, a trade union strike committee, initially representing workers in some 20 state-run enterprises in Gdansk region of Poland's Baltic coast, debated for days the formulation of a series of demands most of them beyond the province of local authorities-to make on the Communist Polish government. The final list, posted in the huge Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk, contained 21 demands. The first was the most important:
Recognition of the Free Trade Union, independent of the Party and employers, based on Convention 87 of the International Labor Organization, referring to the freedom to form trade unions, which has been ratified by the Polish People's Republic.1
The regional Interenterprise Strike Committee, which soon was popularly called Solidarity, had other important demands, including increases in wages and benefits, recognition of the right to strike, union access to the media, and release of political prisoners-none of them as sensitive as the one for the right of unions to exist independent of the state-party apparatus. The cry for freedom of association for workers had been heard before in Communist Poland, but never as resonantly as from Gdansk and other industrial centers in August of 1980.
Faced with a series of sit-in strikes in Gdansk and elsewhere in the country, the government quickly bowed to Solidarity's request not only for the appointment of a high-level government negotiating team but also for Gdansk rather than a Warsaw ministry as the negotiating site. The two sides talked on the Lenin Shipyard equivalent of a stage: a large room with one wall forming a glass partition, on the other side of which hundreds of workers and dozens of Western reporters watched, while thousands of shipyard workers outside listened to the proceedings broadcast over loudspeakers.
This excerpt is from an article published in the September 1989 issue of the Monthly Labor Review. The full text of the article is available in Adobe Acrobat's Portable Document Format (PDF). See How to view a PDF file for more information.
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1 Lech Walesa, Lech Walesa: A Way of Hope (Henry Holt, 1988), p.131.
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