Poland is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Gdansk accords, which established the Solidarity Trade Union as a workers’ body, independent of Communist Party control with the right to strike.
It marked an early sign of the problems ahead for the Soviet empire.
The accords signed by striking shipyard workers and the ruling communists also guaranteed the release of political prisoners and eased censorship.
Former dockyard electrician Lech Walesa, who later became the country’s president, laid flowers at the Monument to the Fallen Shipyard Worker alongside Prime Minister Donald Tusk.
The feisty Walesa will not be attending many of the events as he is in dispute with the current Solidarity leadership after it backed conservative candidate Jaroslav Kaczynski in the recent Polish presidential election.
However he looked back fondly on Solidarity’s role in history saying: “If anyone would have told me back then that I would live in a time when there is no communism or soviets and that Poland is sovereign and independent, I would not have believed them.”
In the summer of 1980 the Communist government increased food prices as the economy began to buckle.
Strikes erupted and workers at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk took control of the workplace and demanded reforms.
Under pressure from the Kremlin the Polish leader General Jaruszelski imposed martial law in a last desperate attempt to hold back the tide of change, which eventually led to fall of the Berlin Wall.