Communism, which was imposed on Poland in 1945, elicited society’s opposition and resistance. The economic crisis that was becoming increasingly severe in Poland from the mid-1970s, coupled with the growing consolidation of opposition milieux, led to an outbreak of societal discontent in the summer of 1980. Initially, the protests were characterized by uncoordinated strikes in various factories on the Baltic coast – above all in the tri-cities of Gdańsk, Gdynia, and Sopot. Soon, however, with the emergence of strike committees, the strikers appointed a body to represent them all – namely, the Inter-Factory Strike Committee [Polish, Międzyzakładowy Komitet Strajkowy, abbr. MKS].
The 21 demands (or postulates) of the Committee were drawn up during the night of August 16/17, 1980 by a team composed of Andrzej Gwiazda, Joanna Gwiazda, Bogdan Lis, Alina Pieńkowska, Lech Wałęsa, and Bogdan Borusewicz, on the basis of the demands submitted by striking crews from all over the country. The postulates were published on panels of plywood hung above the main gate of the Gdańsk Shipyard. In 2003 the panels were added to UNESCO’s ‘Memory of the World’ listing (Cultural Heritage of Humanity programme).
The opening postulate called for the establishment of free labour unions. The further postulates demanded that the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution be observed, that repressions against those persecuted for their beliefs or convictions be discontinued, that political prisoners be released, and that communist-party privileges be abolished. This was complemented by a series of economic and social demands put forth in the aim of improving society’s living conditions.
August 31, 1980 saw the signing, on the premises of the Gdańsk Shipyard, of the agreement between the Inter-Factory Strike Committee, representing more than 700 factories, and the government delegation, whereby “independent self-governing trade unions” were established and the government committed itself to implementing the major demands. The communist authorities’ acceptance of the 21 postulates led to the emergence of the Independent, Self-Governing Labour Union “Solidarity” – Poland’s Solidarność.