On the eve of the Solidarity Union’s 25th anniversary, a special exhibition was opened in Gdansk, Poland. The trade union Solidarnosc in the early 1980s became the first independent labour union in a country dominated by the Soviet Union. By 1981 it had about 10 million members, and represented most of the work force in Poland.
“It was a risk,” says then president of the movement, Lech Walensa, “but it was also a great opportunity. Even though we were infiltrated by the secret service, we were organised. If it had been a local protest, it would have died fast. But we received support from others.”
In the first partially free parliamentary elections in 1989 Solidarnosc won all but one of the seats in the upper and lower houses. Walensa became the President of Poland, and his longtime main advisor Tadeusz Mazowiecki became head of the government.
But the post-communist economic crisis deepened. The shipyards weren’t doing well. People’s hopes for change plummetted. They were disenchanted by neoliberal policy. In 1993, the parliamentary elections brought a coalition to power, consisting of the post-communist Left Democratic Union and the Peasant Party, once a satellite of the Communist Party. In 1995, in the second round of the presidential elections, the ex-communist Aleksander Kwasniewski defeated Walesa.
Trying to regain it’s political influence, Solidarnosc took part in the 1997 parliamentary elections with the Electoral Action coalition, the AWS. The coalition won, but, only months later, the first protest of the Solidarity trade union against Solidarity rooted in government took place.
AWS dissolved after the 2001 elections. Today Solidarnosc has no influence as a political movement.
Solidarity toppled communism and changed Europe, but has now gone back to what it once was: an independent trade union.