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Why the strikes happened

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Legalisation of Solidarity
Jan Józef Lipski Social activist
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The first wave of strikes in ‘88 came in May, it was relatively weak and wasn't very impressive leaving behind a sense of unease that Solidarity was no longer able to rally people to engage in these sorts of actions, so when the strikes started up again in August the opposition was relieved because this meant that those strikes that had been held in May weren't the end, that wasn't everything people were capable of, and one thing immediately became clear – that apart from the demands which were economic demands or were linked to work conditions and so on, it was obvious straight away that there was one outstanding demand, which was the legalisation of Solidarity. There were huge factories like Stalowa Wola which were on strike for this one reason, making no other demands, nothing about pay increases or working conditions, but only wanted the legalisation of Solidarity. Well, this must have been a very significant alarm call for the authorities; after a lengthy period of uncertainty of whether Solidarity was still alive or dead, or after, paradoxically speaking, the blow of the amnesty, would it get itself back together or not, is it in a fit condition to make demands, to bang its fist on the table, and it turned out that it was, that all of these things were possible. Then, when the wave of strikes was beginning to die down a bit, in Silesia it was almost over as only one mine of the several that had been on strike was still out but at that moment in Stalowa Wola the strike was spreading although no new factories were joining and here and there, factories that had been on strike were pulling out. At that point, General Kiszczak announced the concept of talks at the Round Table. To this day I don't understand why this kind of proposal was made at such a moment… that's an issue for historians. I have no doubt that when this proposal was announced, Wałęsa and the management of Solidarity simply had no option but to agree to the talks because if they'd said, ‘There's no way we're sitting down to talks with commies’ it would not have gone down well in the world if it had turned out that Solidarity only wants to be a destructive element and nothing more, while the silent majority of a fairly passive society probably wouldn't have condoned this act… this act of refusal.

Pierwszą falą strajków w roku ’88 była fala majowa – stosunkowo słaba, nie wypadła imponująco, pozostawiła jakiś taki osad niepokoju, w jakim stopniu jeszcze „Solidarność” jest w stanie poderwać do jakichś takich akcji ludzi. Toteż, gdy w sierpniu zaczęły się znowu strajki, trochę przyjęto to w opozycji jednak z ulgą, to znaczy, że tamte majowe strajki to nie był koniec i nie było wszystko, na co ludzi stać. I od razu zarysowała się jedna rzecz, że oprócz... obok postulatów, które były postulatami ekonomicznymi czy związanymi z warunkami pracy, tak dalej, od razu było widać, że jest postulat naczelny, to znaczy legalizacja „Solidarności”. Były wielkie zakłady jak Stalowa Wola, które strajkowały wyłącznie z tym hasłem, nie dodawały do tego nic, ani słowa o podwyżkach płac, o warunkach pracy, tylko... tylko legalizacja „Solidarności”. No, to było dla władzy chyba bardzo znaczący alarm, że po takim dłuższym okresie niepewności, czy ta ”Solidarność” żyje jeszcze czy nie żyje, czy po, tak paradoksalnie mówiąc, tym ciosie amnestyjnym, czy się pozbierała czy nie, czy jeszcze jest w stanie żądać czegoś, mocno waląc pięścią w stół, okazało się tak, że to wszystko jest możliwe. I wówczas, gdy widać, że ta fala strajkowa trochę wygasa – na Śląsku bardzo, z kilkunastu kopalni już tylko jedna strajkowała w tym momencie, w Stalowej Woli strajk się rozszerzał w tym momencie, ale nikt... już nowe zakłady nie dołączały, a tu i ówdzie wycofywały się zakłady dotychczas strajkujące – w tym momencie generał Kiszczak zgłasza koncepcję rozmów przy Okrągłym Stole. Do dzisiejszego dnia nie rozumiem, dlaczego w takim momencie zgłaszano tego rodzaju propozycje i to problem dla historyków. Nie ulega dla mnie wątpliwości, że nim taka propozycja została zgłoszona, to Wałęsa i kierownictwo „Solidarności” po prostu nie miało innego wyjścia, jak się zgodzić na rozmowy, bo powiedzenie, że „żadnych rozmów – z komuną nie siadamy”, miałoby bardzo złe echa w świecie, gdyby się okazało że „Solidarność” chce być tylko czynnikiem destrukcji, a niczym więcej; a ta milcząca większość dosyć biernego społeczeństwa też nie sądzę, by pochwaliła ten akt, takiego... ten... ten taki akt odmowy.

Jan Józef Lipski (1926-1991) was one of Poland's best known political activists. He was also a writer and a literary critic. As a soldier in the Home Army (Armia Krajowa), he fought in the Warsaw Uprising. In 1976, following worker protests, he co-founded the Workers' Defence Committee (KOR). His active opposition to Poland's communist authorities led to his arrest and imprisonment on several occasions. In 1987, he re-established and headed the Polish Socialist Party. Two years later, he was elected to the Polish Senate. He died in 1991 while still in office. For his significant work, Lipski was honoured with the Cross of the Valorous (Krzyż Walecznych), posthumously with the Grand Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta (1991) and with the highest Polish decoration, the Order of the White Eagle (2006).

Listeners: Marcel Łoziński Jacek Petrycki

Film director Marcel Łoziński was born in Paris in 1940. He graduated from the Film Directing Department of the National School of Film, Television and Theatre in Łódź in 1971. In 1994, he was nominated for an American Academy Award and a European Film Academy Award for the documentary, 89 mm from Europe. Since 1995, he has been a member of the American Academy of Motion Picture Art and Science awarding Oscars. He lectured at the FEMIS film school and the School of Polish Culture of Warsaw University. He ran documentary film workshops in Marseilles. Marcel Łoziński currently lectures at Andrzej Wajda’s Master School for Film Directors. He also runs the Dragon Forum, a European documentary film workshop.

Cinematographer Jacek Petrycki was born in Poznań, Poland in 1948. He has worked extensively in Poland and throughout the world. His credits include, for Agniezka Holland, Provincial Actors (1979), Europe, Europe (1990), Shot in the Heart (2001) and Julie Walking Home (2002), for Krysztof Kieslowski numerous short films including Camera Buff (1980) and No End (1985). Other credits include Journey to the Sun (1998), directed by Jesim Ustaoglu, which won the Golden Camera 300 award at the International Film Camera Festival, Shooters (2000) and The Valley (1999), both directed by Dan Reed, Unforgiving (1993) and Betrayed (1995) by Clive Gordon both of which won the BAFTA for best factual photography. Jacek Petrycki is also a teacher and a filmmaker.

Tags: Solidarity, Stalowa Wola, Round Table, General Czesław Kiszczak, Lech Wałęsa

Duration: 3 minutes, 10 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1989

Date story went live: 14 March 2011