The Warsaw Voice » Polish Voice » Monthly - August 2, 2010
The Polish Voice: Special Issue
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30 Years Ago
The signing of the August Accords—unprecedented agreements between the communist authorities and worker strike committees—was one of the watersheds of Polish history in the second half of the 20th century.

The most historic signing took place on Aug. 31, 1980 at around 4:40 p.m. in the industrial safety office of the Vladimir Lenin Gdańsk Shipyard. The agreement reached between the Government Commission and the Inter-Factory Strike Committee (MKS) was signed by members of the MKS presidium, including the leader of the strike, Lech Wałęsa. The main signature on the government side was that of Deputy Prime Minister Mieczysław Jagielski .

The first clause of the Gdańsk accords stated that trade unions so far had not fulfilled workers’ hopes and expectations, so it was justified that new, self-governing trade unions should be established to genuinely represent the working class.

Under the Gdańsk agreement, new, independent and self-governing trade unions were to be established, with the Gdańsk MKS becoming the new organizations’ founding committee. They were to be registered outside the Central Council of Trade Unions, which carried out the orders of the communist authorities and which controlled trade union activity. The new unions were given the right to issue opinions on key social and economic decisions and to have their own publications. The Solidarity trade union (NSZZ Solidarność) was ultimately registered under this clause.

The authorities recognized the right to strike. Regulations on the conditions for organizing a strike were to be included in an amended law on trade unions, and work on the amendment was to involve representatives of the new trade union.
The authorities agreed to publish the main guidelines of economic reform and put them before the public for discussion. The reform was to be based on the increased independence of state-run factories and on participation by the self-governing workers’ council in management decisions.

The government also promised to submit a new draft law on censorship to the Sejm, or parliament, within three months, significantly reducing its breadth and introducing a system for appealing against censors’ decisions in a court of law. Regarding demands related to religion, the government agreed to broadcast a Sunday Mass on public radio.

Workers fired after the strikes of 1970 and 1976 were to get their jobs back, students expelled from universities were to be readmitted. The authorities promised to review court sentences from political trials and declared they would fully respect freedom of expression in public and professional life. The striking workers were assured that decisions on choosing managers would be based on qualifications and abilities and not party affiliation. The government pledged to gradually increase wages, especially the lowest ones, and to increase the lowest disability and old-age pensions annually.

The communist authorities negotiated a number of provisions in the agreement guaranteeing that the political status quo would be maintained. The striking workers agreed that the new trade unions would follow the principles set down in the constitution of the People’s Republic of Poland, defend the social and financial interests of workers and would not take on the role of a political party. They were also supposed to uphold the principle of state ownership of the means of production that lay at the foundation of the socialist system, recognize the leading role of the Polish communist party and not jeopardize the existing system of international alliances—in other words, not to question Poland’s subservience to the Soviet Union, which even the constitution referred to in an article guaranteeing the Polish-Soviet alliance.

A day earlier, an accord in Szczecin had been signed, the first in a series of four agreements. On behalf of the MKS this document’s signatories included strike leader Marian Jurczyk and Deputy Prime Minister Kazimierz Barcikowski.

The agreement was advantageous to the striking workers in the clauses on economic and welfare issues, but not fully so regarding other demands. Here, the protesting workers were not given the right to establish free or independent trade unions. They received assurances that they would be paid in full for the time spent on strike and would not be punished for taking part in the strike, unless political crimes were committed, which in reality opened the way to repression.

Sept. 3 saw the signing of a document ending the strike at the Manifest Lipcowy Coal Mine in Jastrzębie Zdrój. This agreement confirmed what had been agreed in Gdańsk and abolished the four-brigade work system in the mining industry that in practice meant miners having to work seven-day weeks. Miners were given all Saturdays and Sundays off, and the government also agreed to meet some welfare demands, such as including “black lung” (coal workers’ pneumoconiosis) on the list of occupational diseases.

The final, fourth, agreement was signed on Sept. 11 at Huta Katowice steel mill in Dąbrowa Górnicza.