Anna Walentynowicz, Polish Provocateur Who Spurred Communism’s Fall, Dies at 80


Anna Walentynowicz, a labor leader whose firing as a crane operator at the Lenin shipyard in Gdansk in 1980 touched off the strike that led to the founding of Solidarity and the unraveling of Communism in Poland, died on Saturday in the plane crash in Russia in which Poland’s president and dozens of Polish leaders were killed. She was 80.

Those killed, including President Lech Kaczynski and 95 others, were going to a commemoration of the Soviet massacre of Polish officers in the Katyn forest during World War II.

Mrs. Walentynowicz, who was in her early 50s when she came to prominence, was known as “the grandmother of Solidarity” and the “conscience of the movement.”

A welder, then a crane operator, Mrs. Walentynowicz was a fiercely determined organizer whom her bosses considered a troublemaker. At a time when political opposition to the Communist government was sprouting throughout Poland, her dismissal on Aug. 7, 1980, ostensibly for participation in antigovernment activity, prompted a strike at the shipyard. The firing came just five months before her scheduled retirement.

After strikes erupted elsewhere in Poland, the government reinstated Mrs. Walentynowicz, as well as Lech Walesa, the Solidarity leader, who had also been fired but returned to help lead Gdansk strikers. Mr. Walesa would later become president of a non-Communist Poland.

The authorities also agreed, with only slight modifications, to worker demands for guarantees of free speech, pay raises and official recognition of the Solidarity union. Within two years the union would have 10 million members.

“If we didn’t press them to the wall before, we would not have got anything,” Mrs. Walentynowicz said of Solidarity’s threat of a general strike to win concessions.”...

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