August 14

This Day in History

Cold War

Aug 14, 1980:

Massive labor strikes hit Poland

Workers in Gdansk, Poland, seize the Lenin Shipyard and demand pay raises and the right to form a union free from communist control. The massive strike also saw the rise to prominence of labor leader Lech Walesa, who would be a key figure in bringing an end to communist rule in Poland.

Gdansk had been a center of labor agitation in Poland since the 1960s. When the Polish government announced new economic austerity policies and higher food prices in 1980, workers at the Lenin Shipyard exploded in anger. Lech Walesa, a veteran of Poland's labor disputes, joined the workers and on August 14, 1980, they took over the shipyard. The workers' first demand was that Walesa be reinstated to his position as a labor leader. Walesa had been fired from his position at the shipyard in 1976, but remained active in labor protests and agitation against the communist government of Poland. For these actions, he was arrested numerous times. A few days after the workers had seized the shipyard, Walesa announced the formation of an organization designed to tie workers from different fields together into one labor movement, known as Solidarity. The strikers were finally able to wring some concessions from the Polish government, but in 1981 the communist regime struck back and arrested Walesa. He was released in November 1982. Solidarity continued to grow, and in 1989, the crumbling and desperate communist government agreed to recognize Solidarity and to have open elections. In 1990, Walesa was elected as the first noncommunist president of Poland since the end of World War II.

Walesa became a symbol of hope, not only to the Polish people but also to anticommunist movements around the world. In 1983, Walesa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work with Solidarity.

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