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Twenty-One Demands, Gdañsk, August 1980. The birth of the SOLIDARITY trades union – a massive social movement

Documentary heritage submitted by Poland and recommended for inclusion in the Memory of the World Register in 2003.

© Polish Maritime Museum, Gdansk
The board on the wall of the Gdansk Shipyard with a symbol of Solidarity and a slogan "21 x yes" referring to the demands

The 21 demands are the demands made by the Strike Committee in August 1980 in Gdansk, which led to the creation of Solidarity, the first free trades union within the communist bloc. In the course of the strike it was decided to make demands of a political nature, which was quite a new phenomenon. The striking workers demanded that:

  • Free trades unions be established;
  • Censorship be abolished;
  • Political prisoners be released.

Some of the demands made in August 1980 in Gdansk were very pragmatic and of an economic and social nature. Communism was characterized by constant shortages of consumer goods and bad management and as a result, workers’ protests in different countries of the communist bloc erupted. They were suppressed by force and promises of pay rises. In Gdañsk, the government keenly agreed to significant pay increases for workers but this time the strike did not stop. The consent of the communist party to implement the 21 demands resulted in a breakthrough with many consequences.

The practical result of the acceptance of the demands was the foundation of the independent free trades union Solidarity, which had more than 10 million members and became a massive social movement. It was active for more than a year until December 1981 when it was outlawed as a direct result of the introduction of martial law in Poland under the pressure exerted by the Soviet Union. However, Solidarity survived as an underground organization and formed a team of negotiators, who held talks with the government at the so-called round table in 1989. The communist party was forced to make concessions, which led to the first democratic elections in the communist bloc. Subsequently, the elections became an impetus for other countries of the Soviet bloc to fight for freedom and fostered the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1989 (the Czech revolution, and the destruction of the Berlin Wall). The success of the Gdansk strike in 1980 became a turning point and the first stone to be removed from the Berlin Wall.

This is why the “Twenty One Demands” of August 1980 is one of the most important documents of the 20th century. It is a testimony to a turning point which was of primary importance to the history of the world and which not only changed Poland, Europe and the world at that time but also changed their future fate.

  • Year of submission: 2003
  • Year of inscription: 2003
  • Country: Poland
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