Stocznia Gdańska, a large Polish shipyard in the northern coastal city of Gdańsk, gained international attention in the summer of 1980 when strikes lead to the formation of Solidarity, Eastern Europe's first independent trade union. The 1980s were marked by strikes, martial law and eventually free democratic elections in 1989. Solidarity played a key role in the changes that took place in Poland and the shipyard remains a symbol of historic importance in Poland and Eastern Europe.
Stocznia Gdańska, formerly the Lenin Shipyard, was founded in 1945. It was a state-owned enterprise that at times built ships for the Polish, USSR, Bulgarian, Yugoslavian, and East German navies, among others.
In August 1980, the shipyard became the center of internationally critical events. The famous strike of 17,000 ship builders, resulting from price increases and employee dismissals, spread to industries throughout the country and forced the government to legalize the the first non-communist trade union in the then Soviet sphere of influence. These events, led by shipyard electrician Lech Wałęsa, turned Stocznia Gdańska into the birthplace of the Solidarity movement that marked the beginning of the end of communism for Poland and much of Eastern Europe.
In 2007, pressure was mounted on the Polish government to reduce the capacity of the still operating but struggling shipyard or repay millions of euros in state aid.
EU rules clarify that aid for ailing shipyards can only be permitted if the state is also making efforts to cut costs aimed at restoring the companies long-term life, combined with the introduction of private investors. Without such moves, the EU claimed, any aid paid to Stocznia Gdańska is illegal and must be repaid. Yet the historical significance of the shipyard left the Polish government reluctant to cut the shipyards capacity too deeply.
However, the Polish government seemed pleased with the EU commission's 2009 decision. The commission approved the 251 million euros in aid that has been granted to the shipyard since Poland joined the EU in 2004. The catch was a restructuring plan that called for the closing of two of the yard's three slipways, ramps used for the building and repairing of ships and boats.
The shipyard is still operating in limited capacities and much of the massive terrain is leased to several smaller companies that renovate ships and yachts. The shipyard still provides plenty of historic entertainment for the many foreign and Polish tourists who can tour the facilities via the "Subjective Bus Line" and visit the workshop of Lech Wałęsa.
Tourists board a bus that will take them through the shipyard.
An employee climbs scaffolding to continue work on a small vessel.
Once in Wałęsa's workshop, tourists are invited to watch a video documenting the importance of the electrician in the 1980 strikes.
After the tour, souvenirs can be purchased of the Solidarity movement.