Remembering Anna Walentynowicz
On the morning of the 10th of April Poland suffered a great loss in an air disaster near Smoleńsk. Together with the President of the Republic of Poland many other worthy and admirable people met a tragic end, including 24 women; many of whom were remarkable individuals and irreplaceable.
Amongst those who died in the Smoleńsk tragedy was Anna Walentynowicz, one of the legendary figures of the Solidarity movement.
“Because of her involvement in the independent trade unions she lost her job at the Gdańsk Shipyard. This was one of the turning points that led to the outbreak of strikes which gave rise to the Independent Trade Union ‘Solidarność’. When she didn’t turn up at her new work station to which she was subsequently assigned, this became an excuse to fire her from the Gdańsk Shipyard on the 7th August 1980. In reaction to this her friends from the Free Trade Unions (…) appealed to the shipyard workers to come to her assistance. On Thursday, the 14th of August 1980 in the Gdańsk Lenin Shipyard the beginning of strike action was declared. The members of the Free Trade Unions(WZZ) (…) – scattered leaflets which called for standing up for their fellow worker.
Soon wailing sirens announced the beginning of the strike.
The shipyard’s Managing Director Klemens Gniech was so terrified of the magnitude of the protests that he sent a company car to fetch Anna Walentynowicz.
Still on the same day she adressed the shipyard workers, asking them to persevere in their struggle. On the 16th of August an agreement was reached on the strikers’ demands. It would seem that Walentynowicz should be pleased with the outcome. On the contrary. When Wałęsa was announcing the end of the strike over the loudspeaker, Walentynowicz demanded that the protest action should continue until all the demands incuding those submitted by workers from other factories were met.
This is when Walentynowicz together with Pieńkowska ran up to gate no 3, locked it and asked the workers through a loudspeaker not to leave the shipyard. This turn of events raised the concerns of the Secret Police which closely monitored the situation and issued the following statement: “Wałęsa stated categorically that he regards the matter of the strike as settled and closed. Borusewicz, Walentynowicz and Kazimierz Szołoch with their group decided to continue with the strike, accusing Wałęsa of being a traitor.” That’s how the idea of a ‘solidarity strike’ came into being and with it the idea of the “Solidarity” movement itself.
” She not only defended her own right to a life filled with dignity. She would often stand up for other women, something which was meticulously noted in worker performance reports. Injustice to workers, and especially to women in the Polish People’s Republic motivated her to join the Women’s League. Her ardour in exposing injustice resulted in her being investigated by the Secret Police, as early as 1953. In a guard’s house, within the shipyard’s boundary, she was isulted, sworn at and manhandled. She was tough, nothing could break her spirit.”
Anna Walentynowicz used to come and visit the NEWW-Polska offices in Gdańsk-Wrzeszcz, she lived close-by.