The Spark for Change

Anna Walentynowicz was born in 1929 in what is now Ukraine. She began to work as a maid at the age of 10. After World War II, she immigrated to Poland to work in the Gdañsk Shipyards. She became known for her hard work, but was upset by the oppression of the Communist system.

Trade unions in Poland were controlled by the Communist government and didn’t represent workers. Anne joined free-trade unions that were forming in opposition to the government-controlled unions. One of her colleagues was Lech Walesa.

Anna began participating in illegal trade union activities and was fired. She had planned to retire in five months. The other workers at the shipyard staged a protest and demanded that she be reinstated. Anna was considered the strike-leader over Walesa.

After three days, management accepted the union’s demands. Anna and her women colleagues saw the strike bigger than that of the men. They were focused more on Solidarity with other workers looking at their own trade unions. With the Gdañsk Agreement recognizing the right to form independent trade unions, Anna and other women weren’t invited to attend the signing. Solidarity became a dominant force.

Over time, the leadership of Solidarity changed and the leaders of the union became distant from the workers. Anna and Walesa had a falling out with Anna accusing Walesa having a “cult of personality.”

While Anna became disillusioned with the leadership of Solidarity and later the elected leaders of Poland, her contributions became recognized in other parts of the world.

Anna died in a plane crash along with the President and First Lady of Poland. She was 80 years old.

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“You are disgusting – an illiterate president offering a high position to an illiterate person.” – Anna Walentynowicz upon being offered a ministerial position by Leah Walesa.

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