Gdańsk - The Gdańsk Shipyard the Birthplace of Solidarity, Gdańsk
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Gdańsk - The Gdańsk Shipyard the Birthplace of Solidarity

Gdańsk

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Gdańsk Shipyard, a site that has a permanent place in the history of Poland and the world. It is the arena of events that had a significant impact on geopolitical changes in the last decades of the 20th century. It was here that “Solidarność” was born – a trade union and a powerful social movement. The Gdańsk Shipyard is an enduring symbol of the fight for workers’ rights in the Polish People’s Republic as well as for the dignity and empowerment of man and citizen. It is a symbol of opposition to restrictions imposed by the oppressive state, interpersonal solidarity of millions of Poles, action motivated by the common good, and finally a symbol of struggle and victory over communism.

The Gdańsk Shipyard is a unique site among the monuments of history. It is a spatial complex including premises of the former Imperial Shipyard, BHP Hall, Gate no. 2 of the Gdańsk Shipyard and the Solidarność Square with the Monument to the Fallen Shipyard Workers of 1970, directly related to the most important events of August 1980. It is the complex which actually is a preserved historical arena of these events.

The site, the elements of which constitute the monument of history, has a long and rich past. In the 1830s, at the mouth of the Radunia Canal, the first Gdańsk shipyard was built, a small private enterprise building sailing ships and river steamers; and in the middle of the same century, not far away, by the Martwa Wisła River, the Prussian authorities launched the royal navy shipyard, named the Imperial Shipyard, in 1871. In the 1890s, in the vicinity of the Imperial Shipyard, the Schichau Shipyard was built by Ferdinand Schichau, owner of a shipyard in Elbląg. The vast area by the Martwa Wisła River, up to the bastions of the Old Town, was filled with dozens of – partially preserved to these days – halls, workshops and production facilities as well as houses for workers (both masonry and half-timbered ones), road, railway and industrial infrastructure, basins, docks, ramps and cranes. Shipyards, initially building small, mostly wooden ships, and in the last decades of the century, more and more metal, larger and diverse ships, were the largest industrial plants in Gdańsk, employing several thousand people.

One of the remains of the former Imperial Shipyard is a building of the so-called BHP Hall. It emerged at the turn of the 20th century as a result of several transformations; initially it was as a torpedo warehouse, later serving also office functions. It consists of a two-storey office building with a wide avant-corps, adjoined at right angles by a long one-storey wing housing a large hall that from the 1960s on, was used, among others, to hold health and safety trainings for shipyard employees. The masonry building made of faced brick, just like other buildings of the Imperial Shipyard, was built in the vein of historicism with attention to architectural detailing.

In war-devastated Gdańsk, the first shipyard works started already in 1945; two years later, on the basis of the former Imperial and Schichau shipyards, a state-owned enterprise, the Gdańsk Shipyard, was established, and in 1967 it was named after Vladimir Ilich Lenin. It was the largest shipbuilding company in Poland and one of the largest employers, with a headcount of several thousand people. During decades of operation, the Gdańsk Shipyard built over 1000 vessels of various types and purposes, including special constructions, based on plans developed by their own design studio.

The pavilion at the Gate no. 2 of the Gdańsk Shipyard was built in the 1960s and 1970s. A small, one-storey building, with a flat roof, and an arcade supported on pillars, once housing a pass office, is adjoined by a metal, double-winged gate. A large inscription with the name of the company and its eponym (removed after 1989) was located above the gate on a steel truss. The Gate no. 2 gained its symbolic meaning as a witness to the history earlier than in August 1980. On 16 December 1970, in its vicinity the army shot two and injured several defenceless people, while pacifying a strike. For the next decade, the gate was an informal remembrance site for the victims of that workers’ uprising. It was also a witness to later events – the pacification of a strike at the shipyard on 16 December 1981, after the martial law was imposed.

On 14 August 1980, a strike was initiated at the Gdańsk Shipyard to defend Anna Walentynowicz who was fired from the plant; it quickly became a trigger and part of the nationwide protest against the oppressive policy of the People’s Poland authorities and the deteriorating economic situation of the country. Delegates of committees from striking workplaces came to the shipyard, and an Inter-Enterprise Strike Committee was established. Twenty one strike demands were formulated and government representatives were called for talks. These demands, written down on two large wooden boards, were placed on the Gate no. 2 of the shipyard. The strike became a training ground for self-organisation of the people. A print shop was established that published leaflets and press bulletins free from censorship; an extensive network of their distribution, a strike guard, supply and medical services were organised as well. The area in front of the Gate no. 2 has become a place of mass gatherings of Gdańsk residents and large numbers of arrivals from various regions of Poland, of information sharing, of support and solidarity with the strikers. On 20 August, the Inter-Enterprise Strike Committee represented 304 workplaces from all over the country, and three days later – already 388. On 23 August, a government delegation headed by the Deputy Prime Minister Mieczysław Jagielski arrived at the shipyard. The negotiations with the Strike Committee lasted, with breaks, until 31 August; they were held in the BHP Hall. On 31 August 1980, the authorities finally accepted the strikers’ demands, and the Committee chairman, Lech Wałęsa, and the Deputy Prime Minister Mieczysław Jagielski signed the protocol of agreement in the BHP hall. In September that year, the court registered the Independent Self-Governing Trade Union “Solidarność” which in a short time attracted nearly 10 million members. Subsequent months were a time of executing the provisions of the agreement and laborious forcing the People’s Poland authorities to meet the accepted strikers’ demands. One of them was to erect a monument commemorating the shipyard workers fallen in December 1970.

The Monument to the Fallen Shipyard Workers of 1970, the final version of which was designed by architect Wiesław Szyślak and sculptors: Bogusław Pietruszka, Elżbieta Szczodrowska-Peplińska and Robert Pepliński, was made in the shipyard workshops and then solemnly unveiled on 16 December 1980. It consists of three 42-metre crosses connected with horizontal beams with ship anchors – symbols of the workers’ uprisings in 1956, 1970 and 1976 – made of welded steel and brass sheets. In the lower parts there are bronze bas-reliefs with genre scenes from the shipyard workers’ life as well as fragments of Psalm 29 and You Who Wronged poem by Czesław Miłosz. The base of the monument is a pile made of concrete and paving stones, full of cracks imitating gaps in dried soil surrounding a tree growing out of its depth. Around it, there are stone circles expanding concentrically on the square’s surface, which symbolise the wave of solidarity with the strikers spreading throughout Poland in August 1980. On the north side, the square is closed with a concrete wall with inscriptions, names of shipyard workers fallen in December 1970, demands of those striking at the shipyard in August 1980, and a bronze figure of a wounded shipyard worker. The monument is a part of the Solidarity Square complex, located in front of the Gate no. 2 of the Gdańsk Shipyard and designed by architects Wojciech Mokwiński and Jacek Krenz.

Over the next decade, the square was a central place of numerous demonstrations organised in Gdańsk by the underground “Solidarność”, and the Monument to the Fallen Shipyard Workers 1970 was one of the most important symbols of resistance to the People’s Poland regime.

The spatial structure with the premises of the former Imperial Shipyard, the Solidarity Square with the Monument to the Fallen Shipyard Workers of 1970 is above all a site of exceptional historical value. It acts as a symbol, witness and arena of events that significantly affected the fate of Poland and the world in the last decades of the 20th century, resulting in the collapse of the communist regime and Poland regaining sovereignty, contributing to the fall of communism in Central and Eastern Europe, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the so-called Cold War in Europe and the world.

General information

  • Type: technical monument
  • Chronology: 1850 r.
  • Form of protection: Historical Monument
  • Address: Gdańsk
  • Location: Voivodeship pomorskie, district Gdańsk, commune Gdańsk
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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