1980: Polish workers stood up to the communist state

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On this day in 1980, Poland exploded when representatives of the communist government of Poland agree to the demands of striking shipyard workers in the city of Gdansk:

Former electrician Lech Walesa led the striking workers, who went on to form Solidarity, the first independent labor union to develop in a Soviet bloc nation.

In July 1980, facing economic crisis, Poland’s government raised the price of food and other goods, while curbing the growth of wages. The price hikes made it difficult for many Poles to afford basic necessities, and a wave of strikes swept the country.

Amid mounting tensions, a popular forklift operator named Anna Walentynowicz was fired from the Lenin Shipyard in the northern Polish city of Gdansk. In mid-August, some 17,000 of the shipyard’s workers began a sit-down strike to campaign for her reinstatement, as well as for a modest increase in wages.

They were led by the former shipyard electrician Lech Walesa, who had himself been fired for union activism four years earlier.

It was the beginning of the end for the USSR.    It finally collapsed at the end of 1991.

We remember those Polish workers, along with the Hungarians of 1956 and the Czechs of 1968.

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