The Solidarity Labor Union meets for its first Congress in Gdansk in 1980. 

The Solidarity Labor Union meets for its first Congress in Gdansk in 1980. 

By the early 1980s the Soviet Union was overwhelmed by domestic and foreign policy crises. Its economy was in decline, which was aggravated further by falling oil prices. It suffered from “imperial overstretch.”  The Soviet intervention in Afghanistan increasingly resembled the U.S. adventure in Vietnam and turned into a costly quagmire. Moscow’s allies in Eastern Europe were ailing too and needed billions worth of economic aid. In Poland the “Solidarity” labor movement challenged the power  of the Communist Party. U.S. President Ronald Reagan and the Polish Pope John Paul II clandestinely supported Solidarity.

In response Polish state leader General Wojciech Jaruzelski instituted martial law in December 1981. The Kremlin at this time also suffered from a serious crisis of leadership. Chairman Brezhnev was ailing and died in 1982. His successors Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko quickly passed, too, in 1983 and 1984. The quick succession of Kremlin leaders did not allow the West  
to build trust with stable negotiating partners.

Some of Solidarity’s Demands: 
21 demands of the Interfactory Strike Committee. The striking workers represented by MKS demand that:

1. Free trades unions independent from the Party and employers are accepted as provided by Convention 87 of the International Labor Organization on free trades unions ratified by the Polish People’s Republic.

2. The right to strike as well as safety of those on strike and their supporters are guaranteed.

3. Freedom of speech and freedom to print and publish are guaranteed as provided by the Constitution of the Polish People’s Republic; that independent publishing houses are not persecuted; and that mass media are made available to the representatives of all denominations.

 Austrian politician Erhard Busek meets Lech Walesa in 1981 encouraging the Solidarity movement.

Austrian politician Erhard Busek meets Lech Walesa in 1981 encouraging the Solidarity movement.

 This picture was taken by Otmar Lahodynsky, the correspondent  of the Austrian newsmagazine  Profil , on December 13, 1981, the day Poland came under martial law.  The “Zomo” special police forces are cordoning off Solidarity headquarters in Warsaw. In spite of a total news blackout, the photo was privately smuggled out of Warsaw to Vienna and came via Paris on a “Concorde” jet to New York to appear on the cover of TIME magazine 2 weeks later.

This picture was taken by Otmar Lahodynsky, the correspondent  of the Austrian newsmagazine Profil, on December 13, 1981, the day Poland came under martial law.

The “Zomo” special police forces are cordoning off Solidarity headquarters in Warsaw. In spite of a total news blackout, the photo was privately smuggled out of Warsaw to Vienna and came via Paris on a “Concorde” jet to New York to appear on the cover of TIME magazine 2 weeks later.