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Documents Related to Events in Poland (1980 - 1984)

Background to the events in Poland

In the summer of 1980, a series of strikes and factory occupations broke out across Poland in response to a government decision to raise the prices of consumer goods, especially meat. In August of that year a major strike took place in Gdansk, and from there it spread across the country, causing a massive disruption to the economy. The government chose negotiation rather than repression and retaliation, and on 31 August signed the Gdansk agreement, which granted workers numerous rights, including the ability to form free trade unions.

This agreement lead to the formation of the independent trade union Solidarity in September 1980. Solidarity spread rapidly throughout the country. It was the core of an anti-communist movement, with ties to the Roman Catholic Church and the intelligentsia. Solidarity sought to limit government and party control of workers and working conditions, and represented a strong challenge to the Polish United Workers’ Party.

There was much concern in the West in general and in NATO specifically over the threat of intervention in Poland by the Soviet Union. Considerable military build-up occurred along the Soviet-Polish border. Several eastern European leaders, notably those from East Germany and Czechoslovakia, made threats and statements about intervening. The NATO policy at that time was that Poland should be able to manage its own affairs without outside interference. There was much high level debate and correspondence, both within the North Atlantic Council and between the Secretary General and the national ambassadors. NATO reactions to a possible Soviet Union invasion of Poland included both economic sanctions and military show of force.

On 13 December 1981, the Polish Government declared martial law and began a crackdown on Solidarity, including the imprisonment of its leaders. Under martial law several thousand dissidents were also imprisoned as political prisoners. NATO member nations and other western allies issued demarches and imposed economic sanctions against both Poland and the Soviet Union. Despite these steps, the Polish government formally banned Solidarity on 8 October 1982. Martial law was formally lifted in July 1983, though many of the heightened controls and restrictions, as well as food rationing, remained in place.

Last updated:: 01 Dec. 2011 10:53