Solidarity trade union's first steps: Gdansk, 1980

This was the day, Aug. 30, two years ago, when agreement between the government and the strike-bound Lenin shipyard at Gdansk hung in the balance.

The Communist Party leadership was still split and the thus far ice-cool discipline of the 500 delegates from some 250 workplaces began to break under the strain of waiting.

There was a crisis in Warsaw with the orthodox hard-line group in the Polish government demanding emergency action and even the use of the Army to break the strike wave gripping Poland's entire Baltic seaboard.

It was then that Edward Gierek (who was to be deposed only a week later) and his two subsequent successors as Communist Party leader - first, Stanislaw Kania , and then Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski - stood out against any use of force and insisted on solving the crisis by political means and negotiation.

They finally carried the day. The Politburo opted for agreement on terms that its negotiator, Mieczyslaw Jagielski, had spent 10 tense days in Gdansk negotiating.

It gave full recognition to the union and conceded most of the strikers' demands.

In the yard, the waiting time had passed uneasily, often dangerously, with the more radical worker delegates demanding last minute toughening up of the language of the document.

It was Lech Walesa, moderate, shrewdly political (for all his inexperience), who stopped a riot.

''The important thing will be the practice of the agreement,'' he told the militants.

''If we prolong the negotiations, we can lose everything we have gained.''

The atmosphere was still tense Aug. 31 when Mr. Jagielski returned to Gdansk. There was still some quibbling but about 4:30 p.m. the final document was brought into the main hall, Walesa proclaimed it a victory for ''common sense and prudence,'' and he and Jagielski signed it.

The strikes were over. But it was soon apparent that a new crisis for Poland had just begun. . . .

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.