26 May 2010


Brought to you as part of Inspirational Women Wednesday, a weekly meme hosted by Aine over at THE EVOLVING SPIRIT, I dedicate this post to our good friend Urszula and all the wonderful Polish women I met during our exchange visits there.

Anna Walentynowicz.

August 1929 - April 2010.

Anna Walentynowicz, who died, aged 80, in the recent air crash that killed so many of the Polish leadership past and present, was "in a way, the godmother of the SOLIDARITY trade union", according to the major of Gdansk. But she was more than that: a tireless activist in the union's cause, arguing feistily face-to-face with all comers, even the national leadership.
Born in the city of Równe (now Rivne, Ukraine), and orphaned during the second world war, she became a communist party member after she started working at the Lenin shipyard in 1950, first as a welder and, later, a crane driver.

For a while, she was a model worker, but she rebelled when she encountered what she saw as corruption or any move against free speech, to the point of leaving the party. Indeed, her disillusion sharpened her resolve to distribute the underground newspaper Robotnik Wybrzeza (the Coastal Worker) to as many people as she could, including communist activists.

In the 1970s, she began to help set up independent trade unions, making no secret of her opinion that the political leadership of Poland was doing little to improve workers' rights, freedom of speech or the social or political lives of ordinary people. The authorities were nonplussed by such behaviour, at one stage declaring that she had lost her mind. Meanwhile, she was quoted as saying that she felt free to take such risks because she was a widow and her son was in the military. It came as no surprise to those who knew her well when, in August 1980, not long before she was due to retire from the shipyard, she was sacked.

The angry and largely spontaneous reaction of her fellow workers made history - their response to stage a strike and occupy the plant.

Within a few hours, a strike committee had been elected, and a list of demands had been tabled, including better pay and conditions as well as Walentynowicz's wishes for free trade union rights and an end to censorship of the local press. Within a matter of weeks, there were strikes in shipyards, involving roughly 1 million workers, all along the Baltic coast. Thus, Solidarity came into being, with Walentynowicz a key activist until 1991 when she finally retired from the ship yards.

In 2000, she turned down an invitation to become an honorary citizen of Gdansk, though in 2005 she went to Washington to accept, on behalf of the union, the Truman-Reagan Medal Of Fredom from the VICTIMS OF COMMUNISM MEMORIAL FUND.

Walentynowicz appeared in a clutch of documentaries and played herself in the Polish drama MAN OF IRON (1981). Her activism also provided the inspiration for a 2006 German/Polish movie, STRIKE.

READ MORE about Anna.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for spreading this story! Amazing what sparks manage to light a fire.

NabilaHazirah said...

thank you for sharing this! She's one of the most insipring women!

Arti said...

Hi Tracy,
Anna was definitely a woman of courage and seems that she followed her heart..
She is an inspiration in todays times where corruption has spread its ugly wings..
Thanks so much for sharing this story..
Have a nice day :)

Kelly said...

A wonderful post for your Inspirational Women entry!

Thanks for sharing this.

Kalei said...

It saddens me to see someone who has made such a difference to change the world die, that as long as there are people (like you) who remember them fondly and share their passion with the world then there is hope.

In a way her very public tragedy brings a greater awareness to her causes. It doesn't make the pill any easier to swallow though.

Oddyoddyo13 said...

Wow. I love hearing about people who fight for what they believe in, and others rallying around them. Proof that she was such an inspirational figure.

tattytiara said...

Definitely makes a person look at their own life and wonder what more they might do for their own convictions.

Betty Manousos:cutand-dry.blogspot.com said...

Inspirational post! What a great woman!
Thanks for sharing Tracy :)
B xx