14 August 1980: Gdansk shipyard strike begins

On this day in 1980, dockworkers at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk downed tools, leading to the formation of the Solidarity trade union.

After the end of World War II, the Soviet Union installed a puppet government in Poland. The government imposed the communist economic system on the country, resulting in living standards falling behind the West. It also meant that independent trade unions were banned.

In 1970, Polish dockworkers tried to strike over higher food prices, only to be forced back to work by the army. Around 40 people were killed by the army and militia during the protests.

Discontent continued to grow and by the late 1970s, the beginning of an underground trade union movement began to emerge. The defining moment came when the government once more decided to raise food prices. On 14 August 1980, the dockworkers at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk downed tools again. Electrician and pro-democracy activist Lech Walesa became their de-facto leader.

Crucially, Walesa persuaded workers at other plants to join them, bringing the country to a halt. Within days, Warsaw backed down, allowing dockworkers to form their own trade union, Solidarity.

As one of the few independent organisations in Poland, Solidarity became the focal point for discontent. By 1981, its popularity was such that the Polish government declared martial law, ostensibly to forestall the Soviet Union taking matters in its own hands.

Despite this repression, Solidarity was too powerful to suppress and it was partially legalised in 1986. With the economy imploding and the Soviet Union unable to send in troops, Solidarity played a key role in the collapse of the Communist system. In August 1990, Walesa was elected president of Poland.

Recommended

Gold has been incredibly boring to own – but that’s no bad thing right now
Gold

Gold has been incredibly boring to own – but that’s no bad thing right now

Stocks, bonds and cryptocurrencies have all seen big falls this year. But gold remains at its one-year average. It may be dull, but it’s doing what it…
29 Jun 2022
A UK-listed multinational engineer with strong growth and rising dividends
Share tips

A UK-listed multinational engineer with strong growth and rising dividends

Spirax-Sarco is a world-leading engineer making consistent progress in three niche markets, with an order book at an all-time high.
29 Jun 2022
Indulge your wild side with a safari in deepest Kent
Travel and holidays

Indulge your wild side with a safari in deepest Kent

Get up close to the animals at Port Lympne Hotel and Reserve, says Matthew Partridge
29 Jun 2022
How to find the best dividend stocks
Income investing

How to find the best dividend stocks

Stocks that pay dividends tend to outperform the market over the long run - as well as providing an income. Here, Rupert Hargreaves explains the best …
28 Jun 2022

Most Popular

Market crash: have we hit bottom or is there worse to come?
Stockmarkets

Market crash: have we hit bottom or is there worse to come?

For a little while, markets looked like they were about to embark on a full-on crash. And that could still happen, says Dominic Frisby. Today, he look…
27 Jun 2022
Prepare your portfolio for recession
Investment strategy

Prepare your portfolio for recession

A recession is looking increasingly likely. Add in a bear market and soaring inflation, and things are going to get very complicated for investors, sa…
27 Jun 2022
Interest rates are rising, here are the best savings accounts on the market
Savings

Interest rates are rising, here are the best savings accounts on the market

With inflation at more than 9%, your savings are not going to keep pace with the rising cost of living. But you can at least slow the rate at which yo…
24 Jun 2022