Polish Solidarity Movement evaluated 30 years later

Autor: Eva Orlowska and Paul Griffin

A world conference hosted by the Polish Trade Union and a congratulatory letter from U.S. trade union president to Janusz Śniadek on the eve of the 30th year anniversary of Solidarity is a testament that the spirit of solidarity of working people around the world is alive and well. [divider_padding]
Photo: Gail Wodzin, Gail Ann Photography
From left: Paul Griffin, Gail Wodzin and Janusz Sniadek

This is the assessment of Paul Griffin, an active member of Amalgamated Trade Union (ATU), who attended the Solidarity conference and the anniversary events last August in Gdansk. Mr. Griffin and Seattle-Gdynia Sister City Association member Gail Wodzin personally delivered a congratulatory letter from ATU president, Ron Heintzman, to the man at the helm of the universally admired symbol of liberty, freedom and hope.

“It was quite an honor to meet Janusz Śniadek in person, given the demands on his time prior to the official celebrations,” said Paul Griffin. Gail Wodzin fondly remembers the tea they sipped with the Solidarity chairman in his Gdansk office.

Once a powerful revolutionary movement and a major political party that led to the collapse of Soviet communism and the transformation of Europe, today Solidarity is once again simply an independent self-governing trade union.  Its current membership is 12% of Poland’s workforce, down from its historical peak of 80%.

“Solidarność hosted a two-day conference of union representatives from around the globe. Panels of speakers, including the EU President Jerzy Buzek, delivered messages about the state of their unions and political affairs, translated simultaneously into English, French and Polish,” Paul Griffin reported to his fellow ATU members upon return from Poland.

Further excerpts from Mr. Griffin’s report:

“What is our goal?-was the question of the conference. Most agreed that the goal of Solidarność, as the goal of any trade union in the world, is organizing and educating the workforce. The representatives from AFL-CIO, the largest US federation of unions, acknowledged that the struggle continues.  Despite the favorable social contracts in America, the U.S. trade unions must fight everyday to maintain decent wages, benefits and improvements for their members and the public as a whole.

Kosciuszko TV video:

The biggest surprise was Lech Wałęsa’s refusal to participate in any of the formal Solidarność events.” However, Mr. Wałęsa attended informal meetings and received delegates in his office, including a group of students and business representatives from Washington state.

During the monumental events of the 1980s in Gdansk and the rest of Poland, “Wałęsa provided the leadership to get Solidarność off the ground.  He was the right man in the right place at the right time. His strength and morality provided the iron will through the Lenin shipyard strikes in August 1980, the martial law from December 1981 to July 1983, and the Round Table Talks between the Polish communist government and the Solidarity-led opposition. The talks resulted in the historic partially-free elections in June 1989. Solidarność won the elections and Lech Wałęsa successfully ran for the newly re-established office of President of Poland in 1990.” These events brought the collapse of communism in Poland and the rest of Europe.

Paul Griffin believes that Lech Wałęsa demonstrated a political genius by stepping aside from the official Solidarity events. “As a self-sustaining, stable organization, “Solidarność now has institutional memory and inertia to carry on without Lech Wałęsa. Polish people have managed change quite well,” Mr. Griffin reported to ATU members.

“In 2009, Poland was the only member of the European Union with a positive Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ahead of Germany, Greece and Spain. The unemployment last year in Gdynia was 3.1%. New homes, commercial real estate, roads and rail are being built and expanded. The standard of living and expectations for the future are rising,” according to Mr. Griffin.

Paul Griffin is a retired Seattle Transit Employee, active in Amalgamated Transit Union, Seattle-Gdynia Sister City Association and Polish Home Association in Seattle. He is the current Principal of the Polish School in Seattle.

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