In the shadow of Poland’s Gdansk shipyard a concert to celebrate the creation, 25 years ago, of the Solidarity trade union. The union paved the way for Poland’s transition to democracy and a market economy.
Jean-Michel Jarre provided the entertainment and guest of honour was, of course, Solidarity’s iconic leader Lech Walesa. But behind the smiles all is not well. The shipyard is in dire financial trouble and since the heady days of Solidarity its workforce has shrunk from 16 thousand to just three thousand. The union itself has been haemmoraging members, from 10 million at its height to 700 thousand today nationwide. The paradox for Solidarity is that the market reforms it helped usher in have hit union membership in heavy industry. The private sector, which accounts for 70 per cent of Poland’s output, is largely union free. Just one in five Poles are unionized, one of the lowest ratios in Europe. So Solidarity is trying to breath new life into its membership. It now has branches in seven of Poland’s biggest hypermarkets. But, with unemployment at 18 per cent nationawide, and people in fear of losing their jobs the mood is less revolutionary than it was 25 years ago.