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Weeks before Christmas in 1970 the government, under Gomulka’s leadership, raised the prices of food, fuel, and other basic goods, and furthermore cancelled the Christmas bonuses for workers at the shipyards. Strikes erupted in the port cities of Gdansk, Szczecin, and Elblag and casualties ensued. Eventually Edward Gierek replaced Gomulka, and after continued strikes, the price hike was finally rescinded in 1971. However, workers had won neither the freedom of speech nor the right to organized free trade unions. In 1978, the Polish activists organized the Constituent Committee of Free Trade Unions of the Baltic (KWZZ) to promote non-violent collective action. The members in the underground organization included Lech Walesa and Anna Walentynowicz. This is the story of Anna Walentynowicz, a seminal figure in the history of the Poland’s Solidaronsc. To know Anna’s story is to understand the story of Poland.
Throughout her life, Anna worked at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk, one of the country’s epicenters for labor activity. As a young woman, Anna joined the Communist Party believing in the declaration to build a just and equal society. As an enthusiastic Party member she was elected to attend meetings with young organizers in Berlin. But soon Anna uncovered corruption and witnessed the suppression of free speech and the rights of workers to organize. Disillusioned, she quickly became maligned by the party. As editor of Robotnik Wybrzeza, published by KWZZ, she brazenly distributed the illegal newspaper in person at the shipyard, often handing them directly to her bosses. Eventually Anna was segregated from other employees at the shipyard – as many feared she would rouse her fellow workers. Anna was fired on August 7th 1980, only months before her retirement. Activists quickly organized and condemned Anna’s “sacking”, distributing leaflets which called for collective action. Within a week, the shipyard workers were on strike. First on the list of demands presented by Walesa was Anna’s reappointment. An agreement was signed on August 31st, which gave workers the right to form trade unions and that September the Solidarity party was formed.
Sixteen months later, on December 13th, 1981, that Solidarity was made illegal and the government declared martial law. The documentary features interviews with Anna, filmed prior to the government’s crack down. Interspersed throughout is archival footage of historic events: news reels of the 1956 and 1970 strikes, and the ceremonial unveiling of a monument to the victims of the strikes outside the Lenin Shipyard.