Lech Walesa was an electrician in the Gdansk shipyards of Poland in 1970 when shipyard workers clashed with the communist government. In 1978 he began to organize activists for labor unions, culminating in the 1980 strikes for workers’ rights, which spread across the country.
The communist authorities were forced to capitulate and to negotiate, eventually granting the workers the right to strike and to organize their own independent unions. In September 1981 Walesa was elected Chairman of the union and movement now named Solidarity. He was re-elected to the position in 1990. Later that year he was elected President of the new Republic of Poland. He served as President until 1995.
Today Lech Walesa’s struggle on behalf of the Polish shipyard workers is widely recognized as the first crack in the foundations of the Soviet empire.