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Inter-Enterprise Strike Committee

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Title: Inter-Enterprise Strike Committee  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: History of Poland (1945–89), 1980 in Poland, Bogdan Lis, Jastrzębie-Zdrój 1980 strikes, MKS
Collection: 1980 in Poland, History of Poland (1945–89), Labor Disputes, Solidarity (Polish Union Movement)
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Inter-Enterprise Strike Committee

Inter-Enterprise Strike Committee (or Inter-Factory Strike Committee, Polish: Międzyzakładowy Komitet Strajkowy, MKS) was an action strike committee formed in Gdańsk Shipyard, People's Republic of Poland on 16 August 1980. It was led by Lech Wałęsa and others [1] and is famous for issuing the 21 demands of MKS[2] on 17 August, that eventually led to the Gdańsk Agreement and creation of Solidarity.

Background

The widespread strikes of 1980 were far from being the first clashes between the ruling party and the working class in Poland after World War II. Despite having a “socialist” government, the elite of the Polish ruling class averaged an income twenty times that of the blue-collar worker. This elite ruling class owned or largely controlled the police, media and industry of the state, including the state-organized unions. Insufficient pay and food shortages, in addition to a growing movement in favor of independent union activism led to strikes in 1956 and 1970 which left hundreds of workers dead from clashes with police, and both the 1970 and 1976 strikes ended with some concessions but subsequent additional repressions from management. Workers were increasingly dissatisfied with their standard of living and the half-hearted responses of the government to their calls for social justice, and when in July 1980 the government attempted to raise the price of meat even further, sit-in strikes started up again.

The early days

Lenin Shipyard employees on strike in August 1980
Citizens of Gdańsk gathered outside the gate to the Lenin Shipyard during the strike in August 1980

When, in August 1980, Edward Gierek found they could no longer buy off strikers with small concessions, and finally had to settle into heavy negotiations with the MKS.

Negotiations

Government delegates: Mieczysław Jagielski and Tadeusz Fiszbach and Klemens Gniech (Lenin Shipyard manager) arriving for negotiations with MKS

On the day that the committee was formed, August 17, MKS posted a handwritten list of twenty-one demands in the shipyard. These demands were far broader and all-encompassing that the original postulates of the Gdańsk strikers, pushing for free trade unions and the legal right to strike, an end to the repression of independent activists, improvement of health care services, and the increased availability of basic consumer goods and foodstuffs, amongst other things. In these demands, the workers were calling on the government to protect the constitutional rights of the Polish people, and take steps to improve the low standard of living of blue-collar citizens. After weeks of negotiations with Wałęsa and his MKS, the Communist party first secretary Edward Gierek was forced to accede to all twenty-one of the strikers’ demands, signing the Gdańsk Agreement on August 31, which allowed workers the right to strike and organise independent unions.


Solidarity

With the signing of the Gdańsk Agreement on August 31, delegates from MKS – representing 3500 separate enterprises and 3 million workers, intellectuals and students – met in Gdańsk. The Inter-Enterprise Strike Committee, which had become a national federation of unions now officially became Poland’s first independent trade union since World War II: Solidarity (Solidarność). Some historians claim that within weeks Solidarity’s membership included almost 80 percent of Poland’s working population, while more conservative estimates claim membership peaked at 50 percent.

References

  • Crampton, R.J. Eastern Europe in the Twentieth Century - and After. Routledge: New York 1997, 2nd Ed.
  • Modzelewski, Wojciech. “Non-Violence and the Strike Movements in Poland.” Journal of Peace Research, No. 2, Vol. XIX, 1982. Pg. 107-116
  • Goodwyn, Lawrence. Breaking the Barrier: The Rise of Solidarity in Poland. Oxford University Press: New York, 1991
  • Strajkowy Biuletyn Informacyiny ‘Solidarność’, No. 2, August 24, 1980 (In Polish)

See also

  • http://files.osa.ceu.hu/holdings/300/8/3/text/45-4-393.shtml
  • http://www.socialistworker.org/2006-1/570/570_08_Poland.shtml
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