Lech Walsea

By: Mick Yates

Undeterred, Walesa joined former colleagues when they went out on strike and was voted Head of the Strike Committee. Walesa then linked strikers together by chairing the Interfactory Strike Committee and was later elected Chair of Solidarity, a trade union formed by representatives of workers groups opposed to the repression of workers.

Seven years later, due to increasing social unrest, martial law was imposed and Solidarity was outlawed. It was with support from the Pope and the United States that Walesa and his colleagues continued to fight for the cause. In 1983, Walesa's courageous efforts were recognised, and he was awarded The Nobel Peace prize. The legal status of Solidarity was restored in 1989, with the addition of the sanctioning of free elections for parliamentary seats.

Solidarity went on to win by an overwhelming majority and Poland got its first non-communist Prime Minister (Walesa's colleague, Tadeusz Mazowiecki) in more than 40 years. This was largely due to Walesa and his party's refusal to form a coalition government with the communists. Eventually, as President of Poland, Walesa led the Country through the transition into a post-communist era with free elections and a free market economy. Walesa had the ability to sense popular moods and the foresight to choose those battles advantageous to fight.

He was motivated by the suppression of worker's basic rights, and showed great determination and courage in leading, uncompromising in his desire for social and political change in Poland. Perhaps, unsurprisingly, Walesa is still active in Polish politics.

Melanie Smith