In 1980, a fugitive electrician named Lech Walesa jumped the fence of a Polish shipyard that was being commandeered by 17,000 workers risking their lives to make a stand.
Tanks rolled in, and tense negotiations led by Walesa took place for a knuckle-biting 17 days. The government, faced with the irksome choice of a battle too bloody to justify and yielding to the workers demands, finally caved in. In that moment, Lech Walesa founded the Solidarity movement, the first non-Communist trade union within Eastern Europe.
This event provided the focus for anti-Communist resistance, and the movement became a revolution. By 1981, its membership stood at 9.5 million people, and Solidarity campaigned for civil rights and social justice. Initially repressed by the authorities, by the late 1980s the powers-that-be had no choice but to negotiate with the movement’s leaders. Eventually, a free parliamentary election was held in 1989, and Lech Walesa was elected Poland’s first post-communist president in 1990.Founded in 1945 and weathering heavy damage during WWII, the shipyard survived many incarnations under many names and served many masters. Producing trains, every kind of sea vessel imagined and eventually specializing in cargo containers, the adaptable yard of many names has delivered over 1,000 ships to customers all over the globe.
Now the shipyard that served as backdrop to a civil resistance movement that collapsed communism is beginning to languish. Approaching the possibility of a third bankruptcy, mismanagement and strife among owners has left the company a victim of the free market it had such a pivotal role in creating. Amidst empty buildings and silent cranes are monuments erected to the workers who lost their lives during the dark days behind the Iron Curtain, and as the shipyard gradually declines around them, artists, community members and historians strive to appeal to its owners and preserve the site as the invaluable historical monument it undoubtably is.
Know Before You Go
The Shipyard is located on the left side of Martwa Wisła and on Ostrów Island.