“Solidarity” is the English word for “Solidarność”, which was the first independent union in a Soviet bloc country. On September 22nd, in 1980, Solidarność was formally founded when 36 regional unions joined together. This union came about after a strike led by Lech Walesa, which started in August 1980. This strike brought together workers from the Lenin Shipyards, in Gdansk. Workers demanded salary increase and the readmission of dismissed colleagues.
Following this first strike, other strikes extended across the country, which led the strikers and the government to an agreement that allowed free and independent unions, with freedom of political and religious expression. In early 1981, the union had about 10 million people and represented the majority of Poland’s workforce. Throughout that year, Solidarność became increasingly strong and participative in society, carrying out several strikes that called, mainly, for economic reforms and free elections. During this period, the union’s positions hardened, and the Polish government was subjected to pressure from the Soviet Union to suppress it. The union was even declared illegal and its leaders were arrested.
Solidarność was dissolved by the parliament in October 1982 and went underground. In 1988, strikes returned to Poland and the strikers damanded from the government to once more recognize the Solidarność union, which was again legalized in April of that year, having participated in free elections for Parliament. After winning seats in Parliament, they formed a coalition government with PUWP, under the leadership of Tadeusz Mazowiecki. After disagreements between Mazowiecki and Lech Walesa, the latter became President of Poland in 1990. This division between the two leaders prevented the formation of a coalition supported by Solidarność to govern the country and the role of the union became weaker as new political parties emerged in the early 1990s.
Goodwyn, Lawrence (1991). Breaking the Barrier: The Rise of Solidarity in Poland. Oxford University Press, USA.
Miedema, C. (2011). Solidarity with Solidarity. Western European Trade Unions and the Polish Crisis, 1980–1982. Ed. by Idesbald Goddeeris. Lexington Books, Lanham [etc.] 2010. xiv, 307 pp. $80.00. International Review of Social History, 56(2), 349-351.
Ost, D. (2018). The defeat of solidarity. Cornell University Press.