Guest Author - Carol Taller
On October 5, 1983, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Lech Walesa in honor of his contributions and personal sacrifice to ensure workers’ rights. The committee cited Walesa’s peaceful campaign for human rights in the workplace as a contribution felt throughout the world.
Walesa was born on September 29, 1943, in Popowo, Poland. He went to vocational school and then worked as a car mechanic for two years. Following that, he served in the army for two years, and in 1967 he began work as an electrician in a Gdansk shipyard. He married in 1969 and had eight children with his wife, Danuta Golos.
In 1970, Walesa was one of the leaders during a clash between the workers and the government. He was eventually fired from this job and forced to work at temporary jobs to earn a living.
By 1978, he joined other activists to try to organize free trade unions. The government kept a strong eye on his activities and he was frequently detained. Within two years, he led a strike in the shipyard demanding for worker’s rights and similar strikes spread throughout the country. Authorities were forced to negotiate, and an agreement was made. Workers were given the right to form their own union.
Walesa was supported by the Catholic Church, and he regarded his religion as a source of support. In 1981, he was invited to the Vatican to meet Pope John Paul II. That year he began his international travels and was named the chairman at the First National Solidarity Congress in Gdansk.
His celebration was brief because, by the end of the year, Prime Minister Wojciech Jaruzelski imposed martial law and arrested many of the leaders of the Solidarity movement, including Walesa. Walesa was removed from the spotlight and sent to a remote location in the country.
Almost one year later, he was reinstated at the shipyards. He continued to be under the watchful eyes of authorities but communicated with activists through underground messengers.
As economic conditions continued to decline in Poland, General Jaruzelski lost more and more support. Eventually he was forced to negotiate with Walesa and other Solidarity activists. The negotiations led to a non-communist government.
The Solidarity Labor Union was revived, and Walesa was the leader. He held meetings with world leaders.
In December 1990, Walesa was elected President of the Republic of Poland. He served until November of 1995.