On August 31, 1980, at the Gdańsk shipyard, northern Poland, representatives of the Strike Committee and the Polish Communist authorities signed the historic agreement, later known as the Gdańsk August Agreements, which paved the path to the “Solidarity” movement and the fall of Communism in 1989.
The first strikes, which started in July of 1980, were a response to meat price increases imposed by the Communist government. The demonstrations were labelled as “unjustified breaks at work” by the Communist propagandist mass media.
The social protest in the summer of 1980 forced the communist authorities to make concessions. The Gdańsk Agreement signed #OTD in?1980 contributed to the establishment of truly free trade unions, independent of the communist authorities. The Solidarity movement was born! pic.twitter.com/D3O32P96bC
— Institute of National Remembrance (@ipngovpl_eng) August 31, 2022
Throughout the whole month, workers in numerous manufacturing plants, mines, shipyards and state-owned factories joined the protest and the list of demands was extended to include the right to form independent workers’ unions, release of political prisoners and freeing the media.
As pointed out by historians, by the end of the month, 80,000 people employed in 177 state-owned enterprises were on strike.
The 21 demands
The Interfactory Strike Committee, which included delegates from other striking factories and enterprises, was established, with Lech Wałęsa, a shipyard worker fired in 1976 as the Chair of the Committee.
The Committee compiled a list of 21 demands, including the right to form an independent workers’ union, the right to strike and the right to freedom of expression and publication. Despite a difficult situation in the country, the strikes were supported by artists, intellectuals and the general public.
On August 31, 1980, Lech Wałęsa, representing the Interfactory Strike Committee and Mieczysław Jagielski, representing the Communist government, signed the historic agreement, later known as the Gdańsk August Agreements.
The Committee promised to end the national strike. The government agreed to the formation of the independent workers’ union and the right to strike. It also promised to erect a memorial to the workers killed during the 1970 anti-communist protests in Gdańsk, agreed to a weekly Sunday broadcast of the Holy Mass on the radio and promised to curtail censorship.
The Committee, on the other hand, accepted the leading role of the Polish Communist Party in governing the country. The signing of the Accords was broadcasted on the state-owned television.
Poles were ‘aware of their strength’
“In the summer of 1980, Poles rose up to demand their rights and freedoms,” Polish President Andrzej Duda in his message to the participants and organisers of the solemn celebrations of Freedom and Solidarity Day.
“They did not allow themselves to be intimidated, lied to or divided. They were not content with the empty declarations of the communist authorities. They went on strike to the end, because they were aware of their strength – stemming from their unity and mutual support, from their conviction that their cause was just, from their roots in a thousand years of Polish history and culture,” he stressed.
“Today I bow my head to all the victims of communist crimes in Poland. to all the victims of villainy and manipulation,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki wrote on social media.
Mark Brzezinski, US ambassador to Poland, also referred to the anniversary.
“At this dangerous moment for Europe and the world, we need solidarity. The solidarity that you Poles know and understand so well,” he said in his address to Poles.