Full Text

Walesa, Lech (1943–)


Subject History

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1900-1999

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631209379.1999.x


Extract

President of Poland (1990–5). Brought up on a poor farm, he left home at the age of 16 to become an electrician and later went to Gdansk, where he worked in the Lenin Shipyard. He was a strike leader in 1970–1, when gomulka fell from power, and was dismissed in 1976 for protesting that the concessions made to workers in 1970 were not being observed. Unemployed for four years, he climbed over the shipyard gates (in an incident which has become part of Polish folk lore) to join workers occupying the yard when there was further unrest in 1980. Walesa took charge of the strike, which spread along the Baltic coast, and formed an Interfactory Strike Committee, with representatives from 200 factories, which became the trade union solidarity . Demanding the right to strike and to form an independent trade union, Walesa negotiated with the government, which accepted Solidarity's right to exist, though forbidding it ‘to play the role of a political party’. Walesa ran the union in an autocratic manner – when negotiating with the government he decided what should be done without consulting his colleagues or the rank and file – and lost some popularity as, convinced that Poland's weak economy could not stand continual strikes, he spent a lot of time persuading workers to go back to work. In 1981 General jaruzelski declared martial law, arrested Solidarity leaders and made the union illegal. ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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