Lech Walesa is a retired Polish president and activist who headed one of the largest trade union and social movements in the world. Born on 29th September 1943 to a humble family, Walesa developed strong beliefs shaped by his mother from an early age given that his father died soon after Lech’s birth. The young Lech enrolled in a local school and later joined a vocational school where he trained as a mechanic and electrician. He served in the military for several years as was required by law before practicing his trade as a civilian in the Gdansk shipyard (Walesa 2).
His experiences working the shipyard exposed him to the plight of workers and the level of government oppression. He organized his fellow workers to protest official rallies in support of student strikes. Further to that, he led his collogues in staging strikes at the Gdansk shipyard to protest the increased cost of living. He inspired other shipyards across the country to stage similar protests. He accused the communist regime of abusing its powers contrary to his belief that “Power is only important as an instrument for service to the powerless” (Walesa b). Consequently, the government agents marked him as an enemy of the state.
For his efforts, Lech Walesa was elected as an official of The Strike Coordinating Committee, a body that was authorized by the government to stage strikes. He later founded the Solidarity movement and acted as the chairman. In his capacity, he traveled all over the country educating workers about their rights. His employee education programs increased the frequency of strikes in different fields thereby antagonizing the government further. In December 1981, he declared martial law in the country, something that led to his arrest and banning of the Solidarity Union. The global community recognized his efforts in the labor union movements and Polish politics by being awarded the 1983 Noble Peace Prize. In his acceptance speech, Walesa said in part that “It is hardly possible to build anything if frustration, bitterness and a mood of helplessness prevail.” His words directly explained his use of violence in protests.
With the Solidarity Union already banned, Walesa continued advocating for labor-related matters underground. With time he formed a political party that won nearly all seats contested in 1988. Walesa did not run for any political position despite his popularity thereby showing selfless leadership. Nonetheless, he challenged for the presidency in 1990 and won, to become the country’s first non-communist president (Campbell, MacKinnon and Stevens 361).
As the president, Lech Walesa spearheaded significant successes for the country. He established expanded democratic space in the nation, improved foreign relations with the state joining NATO and the European Union. However, his confrontational approach honed in labor activism earned him much criticism including being labeled a Communist informer. An article in the New York Times by Joanna Berend notes that Jaroslaw Szarek, as the head of the government-owned Institute of National Remembrance, accused Walesa of spying on his colleagues on behalf of the Communist Secret Service. Again, Walesa’s affront on the media saw his popularity decline gradually. This fall was best captured by the loss of the 1995 Polish presidential election.
In spite of such a disappointing ending, Lech Walesa’s efforts in labor, social, and political activism advanced Poland and also inspired similar changes across the world. As such, he is still an influential person who shaped history. It is pertinent that all political and labor movement leaders should emulate Walesa’s persistence in pushing for the improvement of working conditions, better political representation, and social welfare.
Campbell, Patricia, Aran MacKinnon, and Christy Stevens. An Introduction to Global Studies,
John Wiley & Sons. 2011. Print.
Walesa, Lech. The Struggle and the Triumph: An Autobiography. Arcade Publishing, 1992.
Walesa, Lech. “Lech Walesa Quotes.” AZ Quotes. N.d.
http://www.azquotes.com/author/15191-Lech_Walesa?p=4. Accessed 26th Sept 2017.