23 Photographs of the Polish Solidarity Movement That Helped Bring About the End of Communism

In this June 16, 1983 file photo former Solidarity leader Lech Walesa makes the V-sign and raises his arms to a cheering crowd as he leaves the shipyard in Gdansk where he worked. The head of Poland's National Remembrance Institute said Thursday Feb. 18, 2016 that recently seized documents show that Walesa was a paid informant for the communist-era secret security from 1970 to 1976. (AP Photo/Jacques Langevin)

Solidarność, the Polish Solidarity Movement, a labor union founded on September 17, 1980 at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk. The movement, led by Lech Wałęsa, was the first trade union in a Soviet Union block state. The union reached 9.5 million members, representing one third of the total working age population of Poland. Solidarność was a broad anti-bureaucratic civil resistance movement to advance the causes of workers’ rights and social change.

After years of Polish citizens suffering under an oppressive government based in economically fruitless policy, the underground trade union was developing. Anna Walentynowicz, a worker at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdańsk, was fired on August 7, 1980, 5 moths before her retirement date, for her participation in the illegal union. On August 14, a large scale strike at the shipyard began, demanding Walentynowicz’s return. The strike transformed into a symbol of anti-communist unity. On November 10, 1980, Solidarność became an officially registered group.

The communist government sought to destroy the union by imposing martial law, which lasted from December, 1981 until July 1983. The Pope John Paul II, and the USA provided significant financial support as well as supplies and technical assistance.

The Reagan administration supported the Polish Solidarity Movement and waged a public relations campaign. Colonel Ryszard Kukliński, a senior officer on the Polish General Staff secretly sent reports to the CIA. The CIA transferred $10 million over five years in addition to clandestine newspapers, broadcasting, propaganda, money, organizational help and advice.

The round table talks, from February 6, to April 5, 1989, between the government and Solidarity-led opposition set the ground work to a semi-free election in 1989. In December 1990, Wałęsa was elected President of Poland, signifying the end of communism in Poland.

Gdynia, 17.12.1970. Gdynia shipyard workers carrying on a door the body of Zbigniew Godlewski, shot during the riots. This photo was taken from a window above the street, from a private appartment, photo: Edmund Peplinski / Forum
Karol Wojtyła (John Paul II) during his first pilgrimage to Poland, Kraków, 1979, photo: Jan Morek /Forum
Karol Wojtyła after his election as Pope, Vatican, 1978, photo: Forum
Lech Wałęsa, Polish workers’ union activist and leader, as well as Poland’s future first democratic President, during a speech to the strikers of the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk. August 31st, 1980, photo: © Rue des Archives / AGIP / Forum
Gdansk Shipyard 1980. Protesting workers, photo: Erazm Ciolek / Forum
General Wojciech Jaruzelski announces the martial law on. 13.12.1981, photo: Chris Niedenthal / Forum
Army checkpoint during martial law, Poland, Warsaw, 1982 , photo: Chris Niedenthal / Forum
Demonstration of  the Independent Students’ Union pacified by ZOMO (special political police forces). Secret service undercover agent (holding a camera) helps the apprehension of a student, photo:  Jaroslaw Stachowicz / Forum
Martial law, 3rd of May 1982, Warsaw, ZOMO fighting the protesters, photo: Chris Niedenthal / Forum
10th Polish United Workers’ Party assembly, Gorbachev and Jaruzelski, photo: Jan Morek / Forum
Gdańsk, 1988. Strike at the Gdańsk Lenin Shipyard, photo: Jerzy Kosnik/Forum
1989. Round Table Talks, photo: Jaroslaw Stachowicz / Forum