The ILO and the story of Solidarnosc

The story of Solidarnosc – arguably Poland's most famous trade union highlights not only the importance of the ILO Conventions No. 87 and No. 98 on freedom of association and the right to organise, but also the vital role the ILO played in the emancipation of Poland from dictatorship.

Article | 03 May 2016
An unemployed electrician named Lech Walesa led a strike in the Lenin Shipyard in the Polish Baltic port of Gdansk in 1980 that launched the first independent, self-governing trade union in the then Eastern bloc. The birth of the Solidarnosc (Solidarity) trade union federation in Poland on 31 August 1980 not only illuminated the vital role played by the trade union movement and the ILO in promoting freedom of association – it was also a history-changing event.

When martial law was declared in the country in 1981, the government suspended the activities of Solidarnosc and detained or dismissed many of its leaders and members. After the case was examined by the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association, a complaint against Poland was filed at the 1982 International Labour Conference. The resulting Commission of Inquiry found grave violations of both ILO Conventions No. 87 on freedom of association and No. 98 on trade union rights  ratified by Poland in 1957. The ILO and numerous other countries and organizations put pressure on Poland which finally, in 1989 gave Solidarnosc legal status.

In 1989 representatives of the Government and Solidarnosc met at a round table to negotiate the relegalization of Solidarnosc under ILO principles and agreed to the first free elections of Poland since the Second World War.