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On the Birth of Solidarity

Thirty-eight years ago, on August 31, 1980, in the shipping yards of Gdansk, Poland, amidst massive strikes across the country, an agreement was reached between workers and the government.

Last year, in front of the Lenin Shipyard where the strikes began and Solidarity was formed!

Sounds very benign, almost like a small blip in the course of Poland's history. So why was this agreement so important?

Because the Gdansk Agreement allowed for the very existence of Solidarity, meaning it was the first trade union not controlled by the Communist Party. This was a HUGE deal. In hindsight, it was a giant step towards the collapse of Communism. The workers had a list of demands and they held out until the government finally caved. Some of the demands can be read as demands for basic civil rights, and demands to improve the economic state of Poland, to further propel the country into success: the right to free trade unions (the first demand), a right to strike and thus security for those striking workers, a guarantee of freedom of speech and the press a day of rest on Saturday for workers, paid maternity leave, and less waiting time for apartments.

A copy of the 21 Demands outside the Lenin Shipyard.

This was a massive victory at the time. On the heels of a Polish cardinal being named Pope, this was another big step towards the ultimate goal. Granted, only one year later martial law would force Solidarity to become illegal and the movement to go underground. But! But! The path to victory is not always smooth sailing, right?

And honestly it's still a big deal for me, on a personal level. As some may know, and I know I've mentioned it here before, my parents were mere college students and they were heavily involved in the movement. As I try (and boy, has it been a struggle) to put down in words (and into a story) of their experiences as college kids with a kid of their own (me!) fighting the good fight, it seems relevant now more than ever to tell that story. I'm working on it, I swear.

This short blog post is not just to let you know what happened those thirty-eight years ago, but to also hold me accountable for making sure YOU hear this important story

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