The workers at Gdansk
shipyard to demanded the right to form an independent trade union
, and with this right they formed the labor union called Solidarity. Under Lech Walesa
, for 15 months, Solidarity grew into virtually a rival Polish
government to the crumbling communist
regime. Ten million workers, nearly a third of the population, joined Solidarity. It united the discontent of the Polish intellectuals, peasants, and workers, and was able to force increasing concessions from the government which appeared to have lost control.
However, under new communist leader General Wojciech Jaruzelski, in December of 1981, martial law was declared, and Solidarity leaders were jailed, forcing Solidarity underground where it could not be as effective.
In 1988, with another wave of strikes and Gorbachev's encouragement, Jaruzelski, realizing he could not destroy it, decided that striking a deal with the labor union would allow for Poland's survival. In the spring of 1989, Solidarity was restored to legal status.
Ironically, during the summer of 1992, the Solidarity backed government put down strikes by workers whose earlier strikes allowed for Solidarity. Polls showed that Walesa, now president, had become even less popular than Jaruzelski.