Poland is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the birth of the Solidarnosc (Solidarity) movement this week.
In August 1980, Lech Walesa, an electrician, led a strike at the Lenin Shipyards in Gdansk that triggered massive national protests against the communist regime. Faced with growing unrest, the government officially recognized Solidarnosc, making it the eastern bloc’s first free union. Trade unions were outlawed again under martial law in 1981, but Solidarnosc returned and was instrumental in bringing down the Iron Curtain in 1989. Walesa went on to win the Nobel prize and was Poland’s president from 1990-1995.
At its height, more than 7 million workers belonged to Solidarnosc; today, membership has fallen to 700,000. And for the first time since 1989, the union has said it will not contest Poland’s parliamentary elections next month.