Topics of coins

40th Anniversary of the Solidarity Trade Union

The Independent Self-Governing Trade Union “Solidarity” (Polish Niezależny Samorządny Związek Zawodowy, NSZZ “Solidarność”) emerged in response to the harsh living conditions of the Poles. Oppressed by communism and deprived of freedom, the Poles had worked up to a rise for several decades. The first workers’ protests broke out in 1956 in Poznań and were violently suppressed. Similar protests followed on the Baltic coast in December 1970 and in Radom, Ursus and Płock in 1976, where the protesters and individuals brave enough to challenge the authoritarian rule of the communist authorities were subjected to massive repression. The protests were triggered by rising food prices and food shortages, low wages and the privileged position of party officials who helped the Polish United Workers’ Party (PZPR) to hold on to power. Freedom advocates became increasingly vocal; Radio Free Europe, samizdat publications increased their reach, grassroot organisations emerged to help the victims of repression. Last but not least, in 1978 Karol Wojtyła was elected Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. In 1979, it was the Holy Father who said the words that gave Poles the power to act: “Let Thy Spirit descend and renew the face of the land, this land!”.

Consumer price hikes in July 1980 started an avalanche that proved unstoppable. In addition to economic and social demands, the demands for freedom were spelled out clearly – the freedom of association, the freedom of speech, the right to strike and the release of political prisoners. For the first time a clear signal was sent out from the communist block that the Polish People’s Republic did not belong to the Polish people at all and that the Polish United Workers’ Party was the party of workers in name only. The scale of the protests, joined by thousand striking workers, gave rise to the organisation which changed the fate of Poland, Europe and the world.

The obverse of the coin features a motto placed on the chimney of a Gdańsk Shipyard building. The motto which contained the demand for freedom – the natural law of a human being. The reverse shows the crowd of protesters and the outline of Poland, highlighting the mass character of the protests across the country, as the “Solidarity” Trade Union emerged across the land.

Joanna Lewandowska NSZZ “Solidarność”