August 1980 cornerstone of a free Poland - president

Piotr Nowak/PAP

August 1980 was the foundation of a free Poland and initiated major changes that transformed Europe and the world, President Andrzej Duda said on Thursday, marking the 40th anniversary of the August 1980 worker strikes that gave rise to the Solidarity Union.

In a special address on the occasion, Duda called the August 1980 strikes "a historical breakthrough" which inspired people in other countries of the then Soviet bloc and eventually led to the fall of communism in Eastern Europe.

We are happy with the growth of our sovereign homeland and proud to see the fruit of our victory," Duda said. He added that Solidarity's victory was the work "of all who, 40 years ago, rose in firm opposition to the evil of the communist system."

Recounting the rise of the union, Duda said Solidarity was "a phenomenon of human communion" which brought people together regardless of their social status, age or political beliefs. He also emphasised Solidarity's openness to all who shared its concern for Poland's future and said the union's ideas should also accompany Poles in their current strivings.

"Anyone who was not indifferent to Polish affairs, who had good will and felt the need for deep-going change in the country could join this huge movement. (...) This magnificent lesson in human solidarity and social self-organisation, which became such a powerful driving force, should also guide us in our contemporary challenges," the president said.

The Solidarity Trade Union was established following the Gdansk Agreements of August 31, 1980, which ended a wave of strikes in Pomerania and were the second of a series of accords between striking workers and the communist government. Solidarity was the first legal trade union in the communist countries that was independent of the authorities.

Although delegalised by the imposition of martial law in Poland on December 13, 1981, the union remained active as an underground organisation, eventually leading to the fall of communism in Poland in 1989.