After decades of state oppression and denial of workplace rights, 16,000 workers at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdańsk, Poland, went on strike in 1980. Their protest erupted when labour activist Anna Walentynowicz was fired from her shipyard job. The mass strike action inspired the Solidarity movement that united 10 million workers and led to momentous political change.
Strength in Numbers demonstrates the power of collective action during one of the largest labour uprisings in modern times.
I was the drop that caused the cup of bitterness to overflow.
Polish shipyard workers faced gruelling conditions, long hours and low wages. In this exhibit, tools used in the Lenin Shipyard show evidence of their hard manual labour: a heavy welding mask, a massive wrench and a well-used wooden mallet. Workers who spoke out for labour and economic rights risked losing their jobs, their freedom – sometimes even their lives.
Despite persistent repression by the government, Solidarity activists were determined to push for reforms. A poster featuring the iconic Solidarity logo is a symbol of these enduring efforts. Inside the display case, a white gate covered in flowers recreates the Lenin Shipyard gate where striking workers came together and citizens gathered to show their support.
Visit Strength in Numbers to explore this historic example of non-violent, collective action that brought profound social and political change to an entire nation.
Strength in Numbers runs in the Level 7 Inspiring Change gallery starting January 24, 2020.