Polish government signs accord with Gdansk shipyard workers - HISTORY
Year
1980
Month Day
August 31

Polish government signs accord with Gdansk shipyard workers

On August 31, 1980, representatives of the communist government of Poland agree to the demands of striking shipyard workers in the city of Gdansk. Former electrician Lech Walesa led the striking workers, who went on to form Solidarity, the first independent labor union to develop in a Soviet bloc nation.

In July 1980, facing economic crisis, Poland’s government raised the price of food and other goods, while curbing the growth of wages. The price hikes made it difficult for many Poles to afford basic necessities, and a wave of strikes swept the country. Amid mounting tensions, a popular forklift operator named Anna Walentynowicz was fired from the Lenin Shipyard in the northern Polish city of Gdansk. In mid-August, some 17,000 of the shipyard’s workers began a sit-down strike to campaign for her reinstatement, as well as for a modest increase in wages. They were led by the former shipyard electrician Lech Walesa, who had himself been fired for union activism four years earlier.

Despite governmental censorship and attempts to keep news of the strike from getting out, similar protests broke out in industrial cities throughout Poland. On August 17, an Interfactory Strike Committee presented the Polish government with 21 ambitious demands, including the right to organize independent trade unions, the right to strike, the release of political prisoners and increased freedom of expression. Fearing the general strike would lead to a national revolt, the government sent a commission to Gdansk to negotiate with the rebellious workers. On August 31, Walesa and Deputy Premier Mieczyslaw Jagielski signed an agreement giving in to many of the workers’ demands. Walesa signed the document with a giant ballpoint pen decorated with a picture of the newly elected Pope John Paul II (Karol Wojtyla, the former archbishop of Krakow).

In the wake of the Gdansk strike, leaders of the Interfactory Strike Committee voted to create a single national trade union known as Solidarnosc (Solidarity), which soon evolved into a mass social movement, with a membership of more than 10 million people. Solidarity attracted sympathy from Western leaders and hostility from Moscow, where the Kremlin considered a military invasion of Poland. In late 1981, under Soviet pressure, the government of General Wojciech Jaruzelski annulled the recognition of Solidarity and declared martial law in Poland. Some 6,000 Solidarity activists were arrested, including Walesa, who was detained for almost a year. The Solidarity movement moved underground, where it continued to enjoy support from international leaders such as U.S. President Ronald Reagan, who imposed sanctions on Poland. Walesa was awarded the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize, and after the fall of communism in 1989 he became the first president of Poland ever to be elected by popular vote.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

This Day In History: Princess Diana dies in a car crash

Princess Diana dies in a car crash

Shortly after midnight on August 31, 1997, Diana, Princess of Wales—affectionately known as "the People’s Princess"—dies in a car crash in Paris. She was 36. Her boyfriend, the Egyptian-born socialite Dodi Fayed, and the driver of the car, Henri Paul, died as well.  Princess ...read more

Sam Mason survives Native American attack

Samuel Mason, a Patriot captain in command of Fort Henry on the Ohio frontier, survives a devastating Native American attack on August 31, 1777. The son of a distinguished Virginia family, Samuel Mason became a militia officer and was assigned to the western frontier post of Fort ...read more

Jack the Ripper’s first victim murdered

Prostitute Mary Ann Nichols, the first known victim of London serial killer “Jack the Ripper,” is found murdered and mutilated in the city’s Whitechapel district. London saw four more victims of the murderer during the next few months, but no suspect was ever found. In Victorian ...read more

Thomas Edison patents the Kinetograph

Thomas Edison receives a patent for his movie camera, the Kinetograph. Edison had developed the camera and its viewer in the early 1890s and staged several demonstrations. The camera was based on photographic principles discovered by still-photograph pioneers Joseph Nicephone ...read more

William Cobb demonstrates first solar-powered car

On August 31, 1955, William G. Cobb of the General Motors Corp. (GM) demonstrates his 15-inch-long “Sunmobile,” the world’s first solar-powered automobile, at the General Motors Powerama auto show held in Chicago, Illinois. Cobb’s Sunmobile introduced, however briefly, the field ...read more

FDR signs Neutrality Act

On August 31, 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Neutrality Act, or Senate Joint Resolution No. 173, which he calls an “expression of the desire…to avoid any action which might involve [the U.S.] in war.” The signing came at a time when newly installed fascist ...read more

Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s "The Threepenny Opera" premieres in Berlin

Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera) receives its world premiere in Berlin on August 31, 1928. “I think I’ve written a good piece and that several numbers in it, at least musically, have the best prospects for becoming popular very quickly.” This was the assessment offered ...read more

Earthquake shakes Charleston, South Carolina

An earthquake near Charleston, South Carolina, on August 31, 1886 leaves more than 100 people dead and hundreds of buildings destroyed. This was the largest recorded earthquake in the history of the southeastern United States. The earthquake was preceded by foreshocks felt in ...read more

Los Angeles mob attacks "Night Stalker" serial killer

Richard Ramirez, the notorious “Night Stalker,” is captured and nearly killed by a mob in East Los Angeles, California, after being recognized from a photograph shown both on television and in newspapers. Recently identified as the serial killer, Ramirez was pulled from the ...read more

American soldier Harry Butters killed in the Battle of the Somme

On August 31, 1916, Harry Butters, an American soldier serving in the British army during World War I, is killed by a German shell during the Battle of the Somme, while fighting to secure the town of Guillemont, France. The son of a prominent San Francisco industrialist, Butters ...read more