Solidarity Free Trade Union of 1980
Originating in Gdańsk, the Solidarity Free Trade Union was established in in Poland in 1980, and is seen as the group that ultimately brought about the downfall of the Polish Communist Party. The Union was part of a broader peaceful movement to enact social change and champion workers’ rights. The Polish government attempted to destroy the Union by declaring martial law for 18 months, which was followed by years of political repression. However, the government ultimately forced to negotiate with the Union-led opposition, which led to semi-free elections in 1989, and a deal which granted the workers their demands—namely to freely organize and strike. Furthermore, several Western governments including the United States and the United Kingdom refused to provide economic aid to Poland until it agreed to legalize the Solidarity Union. The Union’s membership totaled nearly 10 million at its peak, nearly a quarter of the country’s population. In 1989, the Union, together with two smaller political parties, successfully formed the first non-Communist government in the Soviet bloc. The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation awarded the Union the Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom in 2005.