Strength in Numbers: The Polish Solidarity Movement (Level 7 - Inspiring Change)

January 2020 to August 2024

A woman wearing a dress cups her hand to a megaphone placed at her mouth. She is standing elevated above a crowd of people at a gate, with two flags waving nearby. Partially obscured.

Photo: Getty Images, Sygma, jean-Louis Atlan

Exhibition details

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.

Anna Walentynowicz

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.

The word “Solidarnosc” is written on a banner in bold red capital letters. “Polska ‘80” appears in black text at bottom right.

Under the Solidarity banner, Polish workers organized the country’s first independent trade union.

Photo: CMHR, gift of the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Canada, P2019-16-2

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.

Thousands of people wearing blue uniforms are crowded on one side of a high gate. People in everyday clothing appear on the other side of the gate, which is decorated with flowers and two flags.
Thousands of workers occupying the Lenin Shipyard, August 1980. Polish citizens (bottom) show their support with flags and flowers on the shipyard gates. Photo: Getty Images, Sygma, jean‐Louis Atlan

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.