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Solidarity

Solidarity, Polish independent trade union federation formed in Sept., 1980. Led by Lech Wałęsa, it grew rapidly in size and political power and soon posed a threat to Poland's Communist government by its sponsorship of labor strikes and other forms of public protest. Rural Solidarity, a Polish farmers' union, was recognized in May, 1981. By the middle of 1981, Solidarity had an estimated 9 million members. Although it was able to block government initiatives, it had no means of attaining governmental power. On Dec. 13, 1981, the new party leader Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, with Moscow's support, launched a crackdown by declaring martial law, suspending Solidarity, and imprisoning most of its leaders. By the end of 1982, the Solidarity movement had died down enough for Wałęsa to be released from prison and for martial law to be lifted.

During the mid-1980s, Solidarity persisted as an underground organization supported by the Catholic Church, and by the late 1980s it was again a major force in Poland. The union succeeded in frustrating Jaruzelski's attempts at reform, and nationwide strikes in 1988 led to the first governmental attempts to open a dialogue with Solidarity. On Apr. 5, 1989, Solidarity and the government signed an agreement legalizing Solidarity and allowing it to campaign for the upcoming elections. In limited free elections that followed, candidates supported by the union won a resounding victory. By the end of August a Solidarity-led coalition government was formed. In Dec., 1990, Wałęsa was elected president and resigned his union post; he failed to win reelection in 1995. Solidarity has since placed greater emphasis on traditional trade union matters, but the political bloc Solidarity Electoral Action, an outgrowth of the union founded in 1996, governed Poland from 1997 to 2001. Solidarity currently has 722,000 members.

See T. G Ash, The Polish Revolution: Solidarity, 1980–1982 (1984).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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