Lech Wałęsa

for non-violent struggle for free trade unions and human rights in Poland
Lech Walesa

Lech Wałęsa (1943 -)


For Freedom to Organize behind the Iron Curtain

When Lech Wałęsa received the Peace Prize for his campaign for freedom of organization in Poland, he had just been released from internment. The Communist party had tried in vain to break him, the symbol of the revolt against the party's monopoly on power. Wałęsa was employed as a marine electrician at the Lenin shipyard in Gdansk. He was fired for having participated in demands for independent labor unions. These were wanted by the workers after several of them had been killed by police and soldiers while demonstrating for better living conditions. During a strike in 1980, Wałęsa managed to enter the Lenin yard, and led the negotiations with the authorities. These ended in a victory for the Solidarity union because workers, intellectuals and the Catholic church had formed a united front. In 1981 the Polish authorities banned Solidarity, alleging that this was the only way of preventing a Soviet invasion. After a couple of years they abandoned that policy, and Poland was gradually liberalized. In 1989 Solidarity won free elections, and in the following year Wałęsa was elected President of Poland.
Read more