Anna Walentynowicz: trade union activist

The Obituary of Anna Walentynowicz
The Times [UK]

Anna Walentynowicz played a pivotal role in the strike at the Lenin shipyard in Gdansk in 1980 that eventually led to the formation of the Solidarity trade union movement and was a key event in the story of the eventual collapse of communism in Poland nearly a decade later.

Walentynowicz was a crane driver and, as far as the management of the shipyard were concerned, a known troublemaker. Her sacking in 1980, just weeks before she was due to take retirement, enraged fellow workers who, led by the electrician, Lech Walesa, went on strike, making her reinstatement a key demand before they would return to work. Remarkably, the communist authorities — beset by growing political and economic problems — ordered the shipyard to take Walentynowicz back and she returned to work in the director’s car…

…Anna Walentynowicz was born in 1929 in Rowne, in northern Poland, close to the Baltic coast. She was orphaned during the Second World War and in her youth joined the Polish Communist Party, which came to power with Soviet backing in 1947. She started work at the Lenin Shipyard as a welder in 1950. But Walentynowicz soon became disillusioned with the corrupt and undemocratic way in which the shipyard was run…

By the mid-1970s, Walentynowicz — by now a crane operator — was firmly on the communists’ radar as a “political agitator”. She repeatedly raised workers’ demands and organised work-to-rules and began editing an illegal newspaper, even distributing it to her employers at the yard. In 1978, she became a founding member of a Committee for Free Trade Unions set up in Gdansk. The shipyard responded by attempting to have Walentynowicz declared mentally insane, and she had to use the courts to fight to hold on to her job.

Her vindictive sacking in August 1980 was ostensibly because of her participation in illegal trade union activity, but was immediately seen by her fellow workers as the victimisation of a “model worker devoted to others”. As a result of the strike not only was Walentynowicz reinstated, but further action led to the historic Gdansk Agreement with the communists and the formation of the independent Solidarity trade union. Within two years the union had ten million members…

…Anna Walentynowicz, trade union activist, was born on August 13, 1929. She died on April 10, 2010, aged 80 [in the same air crash that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski, whose Times obituary is here.]

Ms. Walentynowicz’s complete obituary can be read at The Times.

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