Solidarity forever?

WOJTEK RADWANSKI/AFP/Getty Images Twenty-seven years ago this month, 17,000 striking workers at Poland’s Gdansk shipyard won the right to establish Eastern Europe’s first free trade union. The founding of Solidarity would prove to be a pivotal moment in the struggle against Communism in the 1980s. However, the free market has not been kind to the ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
599816_070823_solidarity_05.jpg
599816_070823_solidarity_05.jpg

WOJTEK RADWANSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Twenty-seven years ago this month, 17,000 striking workers at Poland's Gdansk shipyard won the right to establish Eastern Europe's first free trade union. The founding of Solidarity would prove to be a pivotal moment in the struggle against Communism in the 1980s. However, the free market has not been kind to the workers of Gdansk, who are once again fighting for their survival. The European Union claims that Gdansk is propped up by government aid in violation of EU regulations and is demanding that the struggling port close down two of its three slipways to cut costs. The port had until the end of Tuesday to accept the proposal or hand back the billions it has received in government aid. But at the 11th hour, the Polish government countered with its own proposal, which likely includes a plan to privatize the shipyard and sell it to a Ukrainian and Italian consortium. The EU has not yet responded, but one official told EU Observer that the Poland's actions were not sufficient:

They should close capacity and then build back up. Poland wants to do it the other way round [to avoid job losses]."

WOJTEK RADWANSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Twenty-seven years ago this month, 17,000 striking workers at Poland’s Gdansk shipyard won the right to establish Eastern Europe’s first free trade union. The founding of Solidarity would prove to be a pivotal moment in the struggle against Communism in the 1980s. However, the free market has not been kind to the workers of Gdansk, who are once again fighting for their survival. The European Union claims that Gdansk is propped up by government aid in violation of EU regulations and is demanding that the struggling port close down two of its three slipways to cut costs. The port had until the end of Tuesday to accept the proposal or hand back the billions it has received in government aid. But at the 11th hour, the Polish government countered with its own proposal, which likely includes a plan to privatize the shipyard and sell it to a Ukrainian and Italian consortium. The EU has not yet responded, but one official told EU Observer that the Poland’s actions were not sufficient:

They should close capacity and then build back up. Poland wants to do it the other way round [to avoid job losses].”

Workers from Gdansk are planning a demonstration in Brussels on Aug. 31, the anniversary of the Solidarity Agreements, which won the union the right to organize. The ruling Law and Justice party traces its roots back to Solidarity, so the closure of the shipyard would be a major blow to Poland’s president and prime minister, the staunchly nationalist Kaczynski twins, who may face an early election next year.

Former Solidarity leader and Polish President Lech Walesa has also been outspoken in his defense of the shipyard where he made his name:

This shipyard is like a mother to us … Do you liquidate your own mother?”

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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